The start-up shaanty has developed an AI-based mental coach that dissolves your negative thoughts and builds positive thought patterns with you. The idea was born in November 2021, the app has been available since February 2023. shaanty UG was founded at the beginning of July 2023 with the help of Startup Port at HAW Hamburg. We asked co-founder Mohamad Hamed Jalalzada a few questions.
How did you come up with the topic of your business idea for shaanty? To what extent does the topic play a role in your lives?
We came across this topic because my colleague Marie and I were affected by burnout ourselves due to constant work tension, excessive workload and numerous insecurities when we were working on our first startup hoλos back then. We ended up working 12 hours every day because we wanted to do everything perfectly and then at some point the money also became less. As a result, we had to take six months off and look after ourselves. For a month we travelled around Italy by car, carrying books on mental health. Our goal was to find out the causes of our burnout, so we researched and read extensively in the field of mental health.
After our return from Italy, we contacted experts (Prof. Dr. Martin Sauerland, Miriam Schwartz, Prof. Dr. Gunter Groen) and had extensive discussions. We realised that the causes of our insecurities, our permanent stress and our burnout are dysfunctional thought patterns. These thought patterns are irrational beliefs that massively influence our actions, thoughts and feelings.
During our research, we also came across some mental health apps, which we of course tried out immediately. However, these did not bring the desired success. That’s why we decided to develop shaanty and protect people from the experiences we had. Our speciality lies in the fact that we not only use methods from cognitive behavioural therapy to address the conscious mind, but also have a lasting influence on the subconscious mind to achieve long-term effects through neuro-linguistic programming.
How does the app work? How would you describe your business idea?
shaanty is structured similarly to WhatsApp, with the difference that on the other side sits an AI-based mental coach who helps to overcome mental blocks. With shaanty, you can chat (as text), exchange voice messages and even make phone calls. During the conversation between the user and shaanty, the AI analyses dysfunctional thought patterns in the background and checks whether a mental illness is present. If one is identified, shaanty either recommends a suitable real coach (matching the identified problem, spoken language and place of residence) from its database or provides the local emergency number. It is important to emphasise that shaanty cannot cure mental illness.
After the analysis, shaanty carries out an appropriate method from cognitive behavioural therapy or neurolinguistic programming with the coachee to address the problem in a sustainable way. In doing so, shaanty asks questions or gives work instructions, which the coachee then carries out. If she reaches her limits, she can arrange for the appropriate real coach to help overcome the existing challenge.
At shaanty, you can buy coaching sessions, and the payment system is based on tokens. Each German word corresponds to 2 tokens. On average, 100,000 tokens are needed for a complete coaching session.
How was Startup Port or HAW Hamburg able to help you found and develop your startup? How did you come to Startup Port?
We have already known Startup Port and HAW (University of Applied Sciences) for three years. They successfully supported us in our application for the Exist start-up grant (at that time for hoλos). As an active member of the community, we always receive the latest updates. We appreciate the wide range of offers such as workshops, funding, events and personal exchange in a 1:1 format that are available to us and gladly accept them. Over time, Startup Port and HAW Hamburg have become a kind of family for us and we maintain a continuous exchange.
Before you launched shaanty with Marie König, you founded another startup together called hoλos: What did you learn back then? What would you never do the same way again – what has proven successful?
Our goal with hoλos was to make the streets safer. Although we dived into the start-up world right after our Master’s, we don’t see our time at hoλos as lost. On the contrary, we learned a lot and broadened our horizons. We were not only able to work from an engineering perspective, but also took on tasks that were new to us. It has proved worthwhile to approach one’s target customers early on and not to implement every piece of feedback. Sometimes you also have to say no and implement your own vision. Of course, this must always be done in moderation, but if you change your product too much and too often, you will never get it done. What we’ve learned and wouldn’t do the same way again is our culture of mistakes: we always tried to perfect our product and didn’t want to go to the customer with something “ugly” or “unfinished”. But that’s exactly where you learn from. Today we live by the motto of Dr. Uve Samuel: “Fail fast, fail early, fail cheap and fail better! Only from mistakes can you learn and become better. And that’s the only way we managed to develop our app in only 4 months.
We are particularly proud of the fact that we are no longer as inhibited by mental blocks as we used to be. Through the intensive coaching, we have gained self-confidence, have become more self-assured and have found a good work-life balance. Our visions have become clearer and we are moving forward with strengthened confidence.
What are your goals by the end of the year?
Our goal by the end of the year is to use shaanty to help many people overcome their mental blocks. We are also looking for funding programmes and investors to push our project further. As shaanty is currently only available for iOS, we are also aiming to develop an Android version (currently only at 70 percent). We would like to appeal to companies that care about the mental health of their employees to use shaanty as a resource for their employees and to be open to new, young start-ups. We are happy to be contacted for relevant contacts.