💡 Founder Spotlight: Aidana Orynbassar
This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!
This session features Aidana Orynbassar, co-founder of Petal App. Petal is a mobile app that helps you build a happy and healthy relationship with food. The idea comes from Aidana's personal experience with an eating disorder, which she want to channel into a hopefully meaningful impact for those who currently suffer.
Visit the Founder Spotlight hub to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more!
Hello, everybody. Welcome to our session today. I am Justina. I'm a part of our customer support team in Cloudflare in EMEA.
Welcome to our Founder Spotlight where we shine the spotlight on the stories of our different startup founders all over the world.
Today, we have the founder of Petalup, Aidana. Thank you for coming on the show.
So to start, why don't you briefly share with us about your startup?
What does it do? Yeah, yeah. Perfect. So thank you so much for having me.
So my name is Aidana. I'm a founder of Petalup. Petalup is a mobile app for people with poor relationship with food.
So we are on a mission to help people to build a happy and healthy relationship with food instead.
And it's based on kind of three main pillars of community support through chats, content like podcasts, videos, and articles that we do with experts.
And probably in the future, we'll have a therapist marketplace as well.
Cool. And how far along are you on your startup adventure so far?
When was it found? Where are you right now in the journey?
Yeah. So this is actually quite a young project slash startup. So I only started working on it last year during the lockdown, like literally when it started in March in the UK.
And I started it with my co-founder, my friend from my university.
We worked remotely. She was in a different country. And we participated in a funding competition at the university that I studied.
It was London School of Economics, where they gave us a bit of money to make this startup alive.
And so far, we have built the app.
It's available on the App Store if you guys are interested to try it.
It's pretty new. So it's also in a beta version. So if you have any feedback as well on user -friendliness and the content, I'll be only happy to receive any feedback.
So yeah, we are currently working with different partners in this kind of field.
So the field that we're working on is basically eating disorders, where we collaborate with therapists, researchers, activists in this space to talk about different topics around this theme and to kind of raise awareness about this mental health condition.
I see. I see. I actually do have a lot of questions I want to ask you already.
But let's start with a bit of the personal story side.
I heard that this is coming from your experience and your personal story to come to this idea.
Can you tell us more about it? Yeah. So I had an eating disorder myself, and I had it for a very long time.
So I developed it when I was 13, and it continued to be with me for over eight years.
So it is very long, but it's normal for an eating disorder to continue for so long, which is why it's a big problem.
So if you didn't know, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of all mental health conditions.
So I suffered a lot.
I had like problems with eating, problems with my social life, my family. It just affected my whole life.
And when I met my friend, my co-founder in the university, we became really good friends because she also experienced the same thing.
And the three biggest challenges that we had faced is the fact that, you know, the world of information is so full of contradicting stuff, especially when you talk about diets and health.
Plus, if you add social media on top of that, it's just really hard to find credible content that you can trust.
And the second thing is that with any mental health condition, you feel really lonely.
You don't always have someone who understands you.
So a sense of community support was really missing for us as well.
And plus, in the UK, we have NHS, which is free for all. It's a great thing.
But with such a high demand for eating disorder treatment, the waiting line for a therapist is super long.
It can take over four months, which is really, really crucial not to, you know, have it for so long, especially when you have, for example, anorexia.
So I believe you two have met in the university and then you were coming up with this idea.
So how was it formed? Was it from more on trying to find a therapist or more on trying to find information?
What was that that sparked this whole idea?
Yeah, so basically, the way we came up with this is because our own experience of finding the right help, the right information, the right people to talk to, took so much time and effort.
So, I mean, I was part of lots of Facebook groups.
There are lots of huge private groups for people who are suffering with eating disorders.
They have like over 30,000 members where people can actually share their stories.
They can ask questions. They can get support from strangers who understand you.
But because Facebook is linked to your profile, sometimes you don't really feel comfortable to share your stuff, especially like eating disorder problems.
So that was like one thing that we thought of.
Plus, you know, the time and effort that it takes to find everything was just such a big burden when you already feel like so miserable because of it.
We realized there was no one-stop shop for everything like credible information, help, community support, which we thought would be great in the form of a mobile app to have it on your phone.
I see, I see. So, because you're creating an app, so would it be correct to assume either one of you will be the technical person to help form the backbone of your app or?
Yeah, actually, interesting question. We're not technical at all.
So because we started with zero budget, no money at all, I used lots of free programs to create like MVPs, like with just like design.
So I used a lot of Figma.
I don't know if you know, but Figma is such a great software to use to design anything you want.
So I used that. And then when we won a funding competition at the university, plus we got a bit of funding from Santander Bank, we used that money to hire some developers.
So we had two developers who weren't also senior guys.
They were students as well. So we were all quite new in this, but they helped us to build the app, which turned out to be great.
It's still a better version, but still, it's quite nice.
So that's how we kind of came up with it. I see, I see.
So it goes from the idea of forming until you enter the competition, until you get funding and have the app created.
Now, I suppose you're on the stage where you are triaging the content, where you're trying to filter out everything that is more a trustable source for you.
Is that correct? Yeah, so right now we are still in the testing stage.
So we receive lots of feedback from users. We're seeking opinions from our target market audience.
So there's just a lot of research still going on and we want to improve the app as best as we can.
So that is that.
Plus, we're working with lots of partners in this space to create content. So because we don't have revenue or anything like that, we often have partners who work with us on a good will.
So they just want to help us, which is really, really great.
And we're super grateful for that. So that's kind of the stage we're at right now.
Of course, once we get more consolidated feedback and research done, we would want to improve the app further.
I see. Would you have an idea that you could share with us on how you are distinguishing which content are more trustable or like how is the criteria made out of?
Is it more on the customer feedback?
How does it work for you? Yeah, so we actually have an advisor who is a therapist in the eating disorder space.
So we consult with her a lot to make sure that everything that goes in the app is good.
It's not harmful for users because with mental health conditions, content moderation is super, super important.
It's really easy to have like triggering information there.
So we have an advisor for that.
Plus, we have a backend solution for our community chats where we have like a long list of banned words that we don't allow to be on the app.
So when users post something, it goes through that solution to make sure that nothing is there harmful and post that there.
If it does contain something bad, it doesn't post it. I see. I see.
That is a pretty good system so far. And you did mention in the beginning that you want more feedback.
So I think people can just write to you guys directly on what is the best channel to reach you guys directly about feedback.
So we have a website. It's Petalab.co.uk. We have Instagram, Petalab. I have LinkedIn or people can just email me directly as well.
Awesome. Awesome. I'm sure they could find you on LinkedIn because we do have some public channel that has shared your details as well.
So for any audience that are watching right now, you can find her on LinkedIn as well.
So if you have any feedback for the app, please do go talk to them directly.
So now going back to a bit for your organization and about your story, because like right now, everybody is having the pandemic.
So we do have a lot going on on everybody's plate as well.
What about for you guys? What has been holding up for you in 2021 and what some of the adjustment you have to make to keep moving forward?
Yes, so when we started working on the app in March 2020, no one knew that this pandemic would continue for many years now.
So the implications of the lockdown on people with mental health conditions like eating disorders have actually been really, really big.
The cases of eating disorders have only been increasing.
So there's a big, big charity in the UK called BEAT, which offers free help for people who suffer and they have a huge spike in hotline calls, email support, and they're quite desperate for help as well from the government or anyone else just because there's so many people who are suffering now.
So it just proved for us that we're kind of in the right direction. We are contributing, even if it's just a tiny bit, to make sure that people who suffer have some point of help.
I believe every tiny bit helps. It doesn't matter what we're trying to do.
As long as we do our little part, then it's going to grow into a bigger story.
And if you already mentioned some other organization that is on the same page, are those the people that you actually work with on the partnership or how does it work in this community so far?
Yes, we actually collaborated with a few therapists from BEAT charity.
They were really nice to help.
We also had some talks with the heads of the church as well. So they showed interest in the app, but they're still waiting for us to gain a bit more traction to talk about it further.
We also had another charity from the UK reaching out to us, asking maybe if we could sell the app for them for white labeling.
So far, we kind of didn't agree on that just because I want to make sure that we develop this app as the best way that we can.
And because the name of Petalab is also quite personal, I came up with the name.
And the reason why it's called Petalab is because all human beings, we're quite vulnerable, even though some people do seem to be quite strong.
But we're all like petals. And if you take care of a petal, it can grow into a beautiful plant or a flower, which is kind of why I named this app Petalab, just because we all need caring.
I see. Well, you already asked my next question.
I was going to ask about your name. But let's go back to the story about when you met your co-founder.
How was the story like? How did you get to meet them or how did you get to meet her?
Yeah, so we both studied at the London School of Economics, and I think we met on one of the events, like student events.
And I think one, to be honest, I don't know how, but it's just we sparked this conversation about our relationship with food and how, what kind of problems we had and, you know, what are the challenges that other people are facing?
And then because at London School of Economics and actually lots of universities in the UK have this amazing initiatives and competitions for people with ideas to participate in.
We saw that LSE has their own thing. It's called LSE Generate, where they support people with any project ideas and startup ideas.
So we applied for this competition.
We went through and yeah, that's kind of how we came up with it. We got lots of mentorship support there and just lots of good connections as well.
Do you mind sharing with me a bit more about this competition?
Because I'm not from a UK university, so I'm not too sure what they are about.
Like, is it for a tech idea or is it for like, what was the idea behind this competition and how did people join?
Actually, there is no kind of restriction of what the idea could be. It could be even like a cafe, could be a non -tech business idea.
But because the LSE Generate really focuses on social impact, it just needs to have some kind of social impact shown.
And it doesn't need to be like the idea with the social impact. It could be the way you work.
It could be the way it is built. And they support any kind of idea, big or small.
I see, I see. That sounds like a really good competition. Because like, I mean, right now, having a social impact is not the first priority in the last year, I think.
Like, I think previously, people were more conscious about it with the pandemic.
Like, we shift a little bit of gear. So it's good to put everybody back in the focus that we all can make an impact, right?
And you did mention, like, so winning this competition did gain you the first bit of your budget.
So how did it work with this such minimum budget?
Like, how do you attract your developers?
Like, how do you attract people to start helping you? Like, how do you make the connection?
And how did it go? Yeah, so once we won this competition, we got a bit of money to bootstrap with.
But then I'd say it opened up new doors for us.
So because we developed a bit more with the idea, we then applied to an accelerator program.
So we were part of an accelerator program at LEC as well for half a year, so six months.
So we were supported a lot by our mentors, different people in the industry.
So it could be a business mentor, a tech mentor, even like, I'd say, like a personal branding mentor.
So the university really gave us lots of resources with that, which really helped us to gain meaningful connections to attract people that would help us.
So at first, I mean, like I had a bit of hiccups with hiring.
It's actually not as easy as I thought it would be. So firstly, at the first stage, I hired a freelancer to build the app.
But then because I hired him over Fiverr, I'm not sure if you know Fiverr, it's like a freelance platform.
There were so many restrictions.
So, for example, you couldn't call them, you could only chat with them through the platform.
And because the freelancer had so many projects going on, you really could tell that he wasn't really interested in our project.
So that was a lesson for me to make sure that you hire people who are interested in the idea that you're building, no matter what.
So it took me, I think, a good month to find people who would be OK to work with me, who would like the idea.
And we actually hired students from my country, so I'm from Kazakhstan.
And they were students. So they worked with us as, I'd say, more like interns, which really helped us with the budgeting.
And also they weren't restricted with like nine to five job.
It was more project based, which turned out to be quite successful for us.
That is awesome. So I think hiring could be your biggest obstacle so far, and it's also your biggest achievement once you hire the right person.
Yeah, exactly. Awesome. Is there any other obstacle that you have faced and you feel like you want to share with the next person who wants to do their startup?
It's like, OK, avoid these. Yeah, I mean, having like a startup, especially when you have like just yourself or your co-founder, it can get a bit lonely, especially with the pandemic.
You can't really meet up with people. You don't have like a specific space to go and work at.
So you usually work at like at home or a cafe.
And you are basically the boss of your time and you have to make sure that you have priorities right, you organize your time correctly, but also like don't forget to take breaks.
So I'm also a mom, so I have to juggle lots of stuff on my plate.
And the biggest thing I learned so far in my journey is actually prioritizing my time to make sure that I do everything, you know, in the correct manner.
That sounds like there is a lot on your plate, which are all really fun stuff to do, which is great.
Well, I guess like you already told me, like so your background really formed you into like helping you to go into this like startup direction.
Like is there like some other things in your in your upbringing, in your background that help you to be a successful startup founder or co-founder?
I'd say, I mean, I think I tried a few other kind of entrepreneurial things before.
So when I was at uni doing my bachelor's degree, I did politics, which to be honest, I don't think was the correct choice of a course for me.
I didn't really enjoy it. And I was quite new in London as well.
So I was quite lonely, I'd say. And I came up with just like a small project as well.
It was a sustainable clothing line where I took people's clothes that people didn't need or wear and gave them a second life and then participated in different student fashion shows in London, sold the clothes as well.
And that kind of sparked kind of a passion in me to to work on my own projects as well, because I really, really enjoyed that.
I see. So this is, wait, let's rephrase the question.
How many startups have you had so far? I wouldn't call that a startup.
It was just like a mini initiative that I had. But so far, it's just Petalab that was like more of a proper thing.
I see. So how do you look into the future?
Like, what do you see yourself in doing? Like, are you having some other stuff in mind?
What do you want to shape your current startup to be in the future?
Yeah, so I think because there is a huge demand for tech solutions, tech products that help with mental health conditions.
And if you look at the market, there's just more and more startups coming through with different ideas.
Lots of things needs to be quite niche.
So, for example, we already have Headspace, we have CalmApp, which are quite big and successful startups focusing on curing depression, helping with insomnia and like any other anxiety related conditions.
But we don't really have like really niche products.
So I feel like with eating disorders, it is quite niche and Petalab has a good potential to go further.
So I am trying to work on it more.
I want it to be successful. I want to have a great and strong community there of people helping each other, people getting correct information and not feeling as lonely as they would without it.
I see. And how has it been going in the last few months?
Like, well, now we're almost in 2022. Like, are you achieving the goal that you have set for yourself to achieve in this year or how is it for you?
I mean, it's not easy at all to achieve all the targets.
I don't work in it full time because I also work here at Cloudflare and I really enjoy it here as well.
But I think the main focus right now is content creation to attract more customers to the app and have more visibility on social media as well.
I see. I see. And well, thank you for sharing the story, because I think this is like really great for a lot of people who might have not just like eating disorder, because right now we are under a lot of different pressure that we're all working from home.
So as you have mentioned a couple of times, we're all remote.
We don't get the human touch as much as we did in the past, where we have a real sense of community where we can actually touch people like they're sitting next to us.
Yeah, I think having this virtual community is going to be really helpful for everybody as well.
So well, and thank you for sharing your story about yourself, because it really takes important steps for us to recognize what is happening and actually step up into helping the community as well and not just ourselves.
So that is great. And we only have a very short five minutes left. And before I let you go, like, is there anything else you would like to share with our audience, like anything related to startup or not, or even your journey here in Cloudflare, how it helped you with everything that you're doing?
Yeah, yeah. So I think based on my experience, I don't think anyone should be discouraged on starting their own projects, working on their own ideas.
There's always support available.
If you just Google, you can find something. There are lots of competitions outside of universities as well, lots of initiatives helping founders, especially female founders right now.
You know, there's lots of support for that.
And working as a BDR here in Cloudflare is such a great thing, just because firstly, it's my first job in a company, and secondly, just the pace of it is amazing.
And I also see Cloudflare itself is still a startup, even though not a new startup, but still, you know, going there and it's producing so many new solutions, new ideas, and people are collaborating and, you know, innovating as well.
And it's super inspiring to be part of this community. And that's kind of my inspiration to always be part of groups of people who always want to make an impact, a difference.
And, you know, I'm trying to help people to build a better relationship with food.
Cloudflare is helping to build a better Internet. So we're quite aligned, and I feel lucky to be here.
Thank you. Thank you. I mean, we always say, like, we're just getting started here in Cloudflare.
So I think, like, we all can relate when we're starting, like, a new project or a new initiative that is, like, could be somehow daunting to some of us.
You did mention that there is a lot of platform out there for founders or female founders.
Do you have a few examples of, like, where people can start?
Like, what are the things that they can be, let's say, googling?
Or what are the great platforms that you already have used and you could share with us?
Yeah, so actually, there are lots of programs like accelerators or, like, founder programs where people can enroll into, like, mentorship courses, mentorship competitions, where they can get funding for that.
So one name that comes up to me right now is Antler. It's a big accelerator program.
It's worldwide. So you don't have to be, like, in London. You can be in Singapore or anywhere else.
And they support lots of different founders. And it doesn't matter if you have, like, an old idea or a new idea.
You can apply for that and, you know, get, you know, budget and mentorship there as well, connections.
Also, look into universities. Lots of UK universities here have really great resources.
So it's really good to kind of venture out and see. And just googling as well.
It does help. Lots of Instagram accounts. There are lots of things.
Awesome. Awesome. Do you mind just, like, spelling out the name that you mentioned of the platform that we could use?
Because I'm not familiar with this space.
So I would love to. Yeah. Yeah. So it's not a platform. It's more like a program.
It's called Antler. So it's A-N for November, T for table, L-E-R. Awesome. Thank you.
So for whoever wants to get resources, I think this could be a first one to go to as well.
And I do have one last question that I want to ask you. Do you have a, well, it's not really relevant to start up, but it's a fun one.
Do you have a pop culture art recommendation that you have for our audience?
It could be anything that you might have in mind.
Yeah. So I like listening to podcasts. I have two podcasts that I listen to.
So there's one called How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, where she talks with different famous people about their failures, which is really nice to hear and to learn from.
And then there is just like a true crime podcast called Red Handed, which is really fun to listen when you just want to wind down, you know, and have a break.
So you are a podcast person. Person, yeah, I am.
Is podcast going to be one of the new pillars that you might develop with your therapist?
We actually have podcasts in the app. So we do produce this podcast.
So, yeah, it's already there. Oh, that is amazing. So you even have like content creation on the podcast stream already.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Awesome. Awesome.
Well, we only have a few seconds left. I just want to thank you again for sharing your story and sharing your platform with us.
For anybody who wants to check out more, please go to the app.
I think it is on both iPhone and Android. Is that correct?
It's only for app, for iPhones. iPhones. For now. For now. So we will continue to wait for the Android version as well.
But for anybody who is interested in other of our Founders Spotlight, we do have a few more segments over the week.
So please join us. You'll hear a lot more stories from all our different Founders from around the world.
Thank you again, everybody. And thank you again, Idena, for joining us today.
Have a great day, everybody.