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August 1, 2022
Nathan Mallipeddi
Bridging the Gap Between People Who Stutter and The People Who Can Help with Myspeech Founder Nathan Mallipeddi

Bridging the Gap Between People Who Stutter and The People Who Can Help with Myspeech Founder Nathan Mallipeddi

Show Notes:

“People who stutter face macro and micro aggressions every day.”

What makes stuttering worse is the compounding effect of the fear of stuttering. Every time someone stutters in public, they can feel the reaction and judgments of others, real or imagined, and these reactions add to the anxiety of the person who stutters. The path to treating these anxieties is acceptance. Owning the ability to stutter as a part of yourself can take a while, but it makes a huge difference in moving forward with confidence and mental health. However, the speech therapy world is woefully undereducated about stuttering, with only about 0.1% of speech therapists specializing in stuttering, almost all of which are in private practice and not covered by health insurance.

Juggling two careers, an international non-profit and medical school, Nathan attributes his abilities to an incredible board for Myspeech. The support of technology, advisors, and volunteers is the only way this could happen. But Nathan also pointed out that when you are passionate about something, you make time for it. Habits and focus make a big difference in making progress on such a big project. Making sure his mind is focused on one priority at a time, versus several, has been hugely helpful in this chapter of his life.

“The idea of belonging to a group really helped me by one, understanding that I’m not alone and two, by connecting with people over a shared experience where we can identify strengths, character qualities, and be a source of inspiration to each other.”

Nathan was a freshman in college, in 2017, when he went to a stuttering conference in Dallas. There were only 1000 people at the conference, but Nathan knew that there were millions around the world who dealt with stuttering. As he realized that the resources available were amazing, but they weren’t getting to the majority of people who needed them, his idea for a social impact organization was born. He started with a narrow focus, the cost of speech therapy, and got to work. He raised money for scholarships for people who stutter, formed a network of qualified therapists that he had met at conferences, and connected the two groups. He found that as he helped his community, he was helping himself. The friendships, relationships, and connections he made were invaluable, as well as the education he received from speech therapists.

“Myspeech has changed my life just from me leading and building it.”

Finding a product market fit was a process of iteration and failure. Nathan points out that you will know it when it’s happening. People will hear about your product organically, you’ll start to get a lot of emails about what’s going on, and you’ll start to get awards. Instead of focusing on achieving a milestone labeled “product market fit,” Nathan suggests focusing on your work and impact and the fit will appear in time. When Myspeech was getting going, they were struggling to find people who stutter and their growth was stagnant. They thought through who was the community adjacent to people who stutter, which led them to speech therapists, and that’s when they started to find and get shared by students who stutter. They have now evolved to be a marketplace where those who stutter and those who help them can meet, work together, and build community and education.

When looking at measuring impact, Myspeech’s goal is to reach 500,000 people by the end of 2025, or 0.02% of the population of people who stutter. They are focused on quality of impact over quantity, looking at whether their help is helping in this phase. They are tracking if quality of life and emotional wellbeing is increasing through using Myspeech before they try scaling to impact more people.

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Nathan (00:03):

There was only a thousand people at this conference and it was the largest gathering of people who stutter in the world. So clearly there's a problem of access here. There was some amazing solutions, but nobody was trying to tackle being that bridge, to find people who stutter and connect them with the resources that can change their life.

Mike (00:27):

Welcome to Cause and Purpose startup edition, the show about the leaders, innovators, and change agents, launching new initiatives and working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. I'm Mike Spear and today's guest is the founder and CEO of Myspeech. Nathan Mallipeddi. At just 24 years old. Nathan is one of the youngest founders we've ever had on the show. Having lived with stuttering his entire life. Nathan is about as expert as they come. And the challenges people with speech impediments face in their daily lives, he understands the social and emotional impacts of stuttering, as well as some of the surprising limitations in delivering a high standard of therapeutic care. This unique population as a college student at UCLA, Nathan decided to do something to hell, creating my speech as a way of providing quality resources and a sense of community to a population of nearly 70 million people around the world live with a challenges of stuttering every day. Nathan has been a full-time founder and a full-time student since launching Myspeech in 2017 and has some amazing insights to share about his entrepreneurial journey. Nathan, thanks so much for joining us, man. I'm excited to sit down and talk to you. Give us a little bit of your bio, give us a sense of your background and where, where you come from and what leads you up to today.

Nathan (01:40):

Yeah, yeah, of course. And thank you so much for having me <laugh> that's incredibly kind of you to say I grew up in California in the, around San Jose, California, a place called Cupertino and I, I spent the majority of my middle school and high school years there. And then I, I went to UCLA just like you, a fellow Bruin <laugh>. So I spent four years in Westwood, which was just a great time. Uh, I graduated from UCLA in 2020. I took a year off. Um, did a variety of things in, in business and research. And now I'm in, in medical school at, at Harvard in Boston. So I went from west coast to east coast, uh, in terms of my, um, story, uh, diving a bit deeper here. It really goes back to my stuttering. Uh, so I'm a person who stutters my dad's stutters.

Nathan (02:37):

Um, and what's interesting about stuttering is I think people don't really understand, or they have a distorted perception of, of where the impact of the disorder like really lies. I think the, the fluency part is an issue, but it's just the, the tip of the iceberg. The impact of stuttering is more the fear of stuttering and the fact that, um, everything underneath, you know, that you are not seeing underneath like the water in the iceberg, um, people who stutter go through fear, shame, guilt, anxiety, isolation, and these, um, mental attributes are, are what can really ruin lives. And so I see stuttering as, um, very much, uh, a mental health condition. Um, and it was certainly like that for me, growing up where I struggled a lot early on, um, I stutter really drove me to avoid relationships during a very critical growth period in my life.

Nathan (03:39):

And it was tough, right. There were a lot of days. Um, so Harry Potter was my favorite book growing up. So I would, would be reading Harry Potter out loud in front of the mirror. And anytime I would get stuck on a word, I would just kind of cry myself to sleep just because at that age, not being able to do something that came so naturally to everybody else, right. The ability to speak. Um, it really, I think affected at that time, my, my academic potential, my social life and, um, uh, and it, it continues to affect like millions today. So when we talk a little bit about how many people stutter, it's 5% of all children, 1% of all adults. So it's, it's, it's, uh, anywhere from 70 to 170 million, like depending on what statistic you use. And so for me, um, when I, I went to college and in med school, it was, it was always grounded in service. I think one thing my stuttering made me realize is that every person has, has a story and, and a struggle that they are going through that is not visible, um, to other people. And so if I could commit myself to helping people to reach their full potential, then um, then, then I would be doing something meaningful to me and find and find happiness. So, yeah, that's a little bit of my story in terms of my stutter, where I came from and, and why I, I, uh, I committed myself to the social impact sector,

Mike (05:12):

The 5% figure, 180 million people around the world, these, these facts that you've shared with me. But alongside of that, you, you mentioned that the state of the industry of speech therapy is, is somewhat broken. That there's not enough therapists around and it's prohibitively expensive for a lot of families. Can you talk a bit more about that, that challenge and kind of what you're seeing there?

Nathan (05:29):

Yeah, of course. So just to clarify, starting effects 5% of all children, 1% of all adults. And so if you like look in the research that can be anywhere from 70 million to about 150 or 170 million, the truth is that, uh, it's, it's largely understood that that's probably a underestimate, um, because, uh, a lot of people that are, are, are covert, like, meaning that, like they don't show it, it, it can become a invisible disability. Um, but yeah, to, to, to talk about the, the like support services, I think I I'll first talk about this idea of acceptance with stuttering, which is the fact that people who stutter, uh, face micro and macroaggressions every day, right? If I'm stuttering in medical school, even, and, um, anytime I quote unquote slip up, it's automatically attributed to my character. He's nervous. He's not confident. He, he may not be that smart.

Nathan (06:33):

And these comments every day, it's like death by a thousand paper cuts, it can affect people's anxiety and depression, especially people in, in their like teenage years where your sense of self worth is derived from what your peers think of you. Right. Right. It's not like what your parents think of you. Um, but that anxiety and depression actually makes like stuttering worse. Uh, it's not what causes stuttering, but it makes it worse. And when that happens, you get even more micro and macroaggression. So it's just a vicious cycle that goes over and over again. And the way to break that wheel and break that cycle is through a process called acceptance. And what it entails is, Hey, I'm a person who stutters, you know, this is a part of me. Um, I'm going to accept it on the good days on the bad days, but acknowledge that without my stutter, I, I would not be who I am.

Nathan (07:33):

I've reached a point through, um, a supportive family and friends where stuttering has taught me so much and given me so many opportunities that I would never wish it away, but that takes a while. And everybody has their own journey to reach that acceptance point. And the key to getting to that level of acceptance traditionally is speech therapy, right? But it's speech therapy from somebody who understands acceptance and understands like stuttering. Unfortunately, stuttering is, is not taught in a lot of graduate, like speech therapy schools. And so like most speech therapists will treat stuttering by having people work on their breathing and their fluency. But you can see how teaching people to try to talk normal can actually make your acceptance journey like go backwards. It makes it worse. So the speech therapy that is fluency focused is making people who stutter oftentimes like do worse on their acceptance journey and it can act actually hurt them.

Nathan (08:38):

So the key issue in the field is that so few speech therapists understands stuttering. It's less than 0.1%. If you go to the, the speech therapy professional association, it's called Asha. If you go to their fluency port, it is people who specialize in stuttering for all, all the millions of people who stutter in the us. There's only 150 specialists in stuttering. It's just a huge supply and demand gap. And the idea of cost, as you mentioned, it comes in where if I am able to find somebody who, who understands stuttering or specializes in stuttering, whatever term you want to use, almost all of them are private practice and health insurance almost never covers stuttering. So families have to pay out of pocket up to, uh, 150 an hour or, uh, 1250 a month. It depends on your geographic location. Um, but that's out of reach for a lot of families. And it certainly was for my family growing up. So I never got that type of therapy. Um, I didn't like find out about that therapy until later. So it's that real like supply demand gap when it comes to getting professional help that, um, plagues this field and, um, and leaves a lot millions of people who stutter out there wanting more

Mike (10:01):

Growing up, you were the only person that you knew at the time mm-hmm, <affirmative> who stuttered mm-hmm <affirmative>. Can you talk about sense of isolation you might have felt, and then connecting with people once you went to college who, you know, maybe you had more in common with, on this level.

Nathan (10:13):

That's a great question. I think isolation is just such a, it has a tremendous negative impact on people's lives, regardless of if we're talking about stuttering, but just in general. Right. Um, and we see that especially, uh, pervasive through our, our society with the whole pandemic, how isolation has really caused mental health numbers to plummet, um, and people have, have been struggling. Um, so I think I learned very early on about this idea of isolation, just because, especially because a stuttering is a invisible condition, if I wanted it to be, so what that means is I was a, a covert stutterer. So I was very careful about being quiet. Uh, if I was stuttering, I would switch all my words to make sure I picked, uh, syllables that I had a less tendency of actually stuttering on. Um, and then if I was having a bad day and I had a presentation in a couple hours, I would like, and, you know, I remember one day in seventh grade where it was raining outside and, uh, I stood outside trying to force myself to get sick so I could skip the presentation. So it's

Mike (11:48):

Oh, wow. It

Nathan (11:49):

<laugh> it's, it stays like that where I think the, the, the isolation can, can really be tough to deal with. And then the other part of it that was tough is that it wasn't something that I could be free of. Right. Every second, every minute, every hour, every day, it was on my mind in the morning. And in the evening, I didn't know what it was like to live without it <laugh>. I think the idea of belonging to a group really helped me to understand that one I'm not alone. And two, by connecting with people over a shared experience, we can identify strengths, character qualities, and be a source of inspiration to each other, to help us out of that vicious cycle. I mentioned earlier, and that happened to me when I joined the stuttering community in college. And I met people who stutter from ages three, four, all the way up to like 70, 80.

Nathan (12:58):

And they were all happy to be people who stutter. And at that time I was like, 17. That was crazy to me. How could you be happy to be someone who stutters, right. I just wanted to, to be like rid of it. And, and to hear them talk about how there's one particular quote from, um, a movie that basically says, you know, stuttering is a part of me and to wish away my stuttering is to say that I don't like a part of myself, but I like who I am. Um, so, and to get that lesson, like really changed my life. Um, and, and I wouldn't have got that without a community of peers who are going through a similar or similar journey,

Mike (13:47):

Give us the elevator pitch for Myspeech. What is it concisely? And what's it all about? What do you guys do?

Nathan (13:52):

The goal behind Myspeech is, is to build a, one of a kind digital platform, connecting people who stutter with life, changing resources, across speech therapy and community people who stutter face challenges every day. You know, I I've see firsthand as a person who stutter is how that difficulty to communicate in day to day interactions, uh, can really compound and ruin lives. And as I, I mentioned earlier, stuttering is very much a mental health condition. Uh, people who stutter are two to three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and other mental illnesses. And another jarring statistic is just how many people stutter, you know, 5% of all of all children, 1% of all adults, but the delivery of support services is broken for people who stutter for, for primarily two reasons supply where less than 0.1% of therapists actually specialize in stuttering.

Nathan (15:02):

And then the second one is cost where health insurance doesn't cover stuttering therapy. So families have to pay out of pocket up to, uh, 1250 a month. So our solution, we are building a marketplace to connect people who stutter, uh, on this platform with supportive resources, across speech therapy, community, and even articles and videos and other asynchronous, um, supports. And the goal is not only to serve as a connector, but also use the power of data to understand where people who stutter are in their journey and, and connect them with the appropriate resource. Um, uh, two date we've impacted about 20,000 people across, uh, 25 countries and, and seen, uh, remarkable, uh, quality of life improvements over 50%, um, in emotional wellbeing and a 10 X reduction in cost. And our, our goal is to scale this marketplace to, um, ensure that every person who stutters, regardless of where they come from has access to those tools to reach their full potential.

Mike (16:21):

When did you actually decide to create and launch my speech?

Nathan (16:26):

Yeah, so I was a, a freshman in college, so it was 2017. Um, I, I went to a stuttering conference in Dallas, Texas, actually, it was about a thousand people who stuttered allies and therapists. Uh, they call it the largest gathering of people who stutter in, in the world. Um, and no first off all of the feelings of a sense of belonging, of acceptance of finally like finding somewhere where I could stutter freely that blew my mind. But what I also learned from that experience was this other aspect, which is there is help out there that actually understands the true nature of stuttering across speech therapist who actually specialize or understands stuttering across support groups. So that national stuttering association hosts, uh, local support groups for people who started to connect with, uh, each other across camps for kids, uh, the stuttering association for the young host them, all of these solutions.

Nathan (17:45):

I knew nothing about, and I would have tremendously benefited from even two years earlier. And so I thought about that and I thought about how many people stuttered. As I mentioned, millions, there was only a thousand people at this conference, and it was the largest gathering of people who stutter in the world. So clearly there's a problem of access here. And there was some amazing solutions, but nobody was trying to tackle being that bridge, to find people who stutter and connect them with the resources that can change their life because they're available and people who stutter are, are needing help. So why are they not being connected? Right. As simple as that. So I started off very simply, let me start in an organization and let me go narrow. Right? I mentioned, I think in entrepreneurship, it's, you, you have to prioritize and, and you have to focus, right, because there are so many problems and you can't do everything at once.

Nathan (18:59):

So I picked one issue at first access to, to, uh, to a specialized speech therapy. I stuttering. And then I picked one part of that issue, which is cost. And the fact that those therapists are often out of reach for a lot of people who stutter. And I found people who stutter, I raised money for scholarships, and I formed a network of the best therapists in stuttering, who I had met at these conferences. And I connected them with each other. So it was very grassroots, very, I wasn't trying to set out to like change the world as right. Everyone has, there were an entrepreneurial journey. I just saw this problem that I had a personal experience with. I was astounded that nobody was doing anything about it. So I thought at that time, is there something small that at that time, uh, a 17, 18 year old could do. Um, so that's, that's, that's exactly. Um, what happened?

Mike (20:03):

What was the real spark that led you to go from, like, seeing this challenge, seeing this problem to deciding to create something of your own?

Nathan (20:10):

Yeah, so, um, I think there were a couple sparks, um, for me it always goes back to stories. Uh, so there's one, uh, young teenager who stuttered, who I met at the conference, his name was Cooper. He was also from Los Angeles. Uh, I think he was 13 at that time or four 14. And his mother had connected us because we were from a similar area and Cooper had the, the fortune of being involved in these stuttering organizations for like six, seven years already, um, at that age. Um, and talking to him and just hearing just, you know, age is, is such a, a tricky concept because I, I was older than him, but he was much farther along on his acceptance journey than I was. He was talking about hu stuttering was a blessing. He made so many friends. Um, um, he called it his, his, his Stanley, right, his stuttering family.

Nathan (21:24):

He had like a group chat with a bunch of other teenagers who stutter from across the country, right. Just like random people who you meet at conferences and stay in touch with. Um, and you have a shared experience. And that really struck me where it was the ability to, to have that level of self awareness at that young and age. And that, um, it was that story and, and many stories like that, that like reinforced to me, Hey, getting access to this support, whether it's a speech therapist or whether it's even a mentor or just a support group or a peer, just somebody else who stutters can transform somebody on this ex acceptance journey. Right. And really changed her life, um, as it did for him. And as it, it did for me later. So when, uh, I came back to Westwood, I was in my dorm and I, I was thinking about this.

Nathan (22:22):

Okay. Like, you know, where do I start? How do I, I do this first thing I did was, um, I, I wrote down the like, problem, right? And then as I mentioned earlier, I tried to find a small part of the solution, namely therapists, and then how I was going to enable access to therapists scholarships. And then I, I built a framework around that. And the goal was, was to keep the problem and solution at the center of what we did and then to create a broader framework in terms of volunteers. Right. So I reached out, I started local at LA through, I put out like listers and newsletters to ask if people were interested. I contacted people. I met at the conferences in, in stuttering, and slowly over time, we built a team. I, I met with therapists who specialize in stuttering, who were leaders in the field.

Nathan (23:27):

And we started to form our advisory board among other things. And it grew from that. But in terms of, of how we started, it was always problem and solution. And it remains, it remains like that today. Right. Um, we are truly a mission driven organization and, and everyone in, in our organization has a keen level of self-awareness about why we exist, um, and why we want to help. So that was a framework I used. And then an extra, like little nugget was that in doing all of this, I was actually helping myself in my acceptance journey because I wasn't very far along by that. But I was meeting people who stutter, who went to my same school. Right. Like a bunch of people reached out to me, Hey, I stutter too, right. At UCLA who we met up for coffee for lunch formed these relationships. That was great for me. Right. I was, I was speaking with therapists. I was learning, I wasn't getting therapy, but I, I was learning about the sorts of things they send their, the patients to. So I, I've never got formalized, like speech therapy. My acceptance journey was through my speech. And so like, um, so it's amazing to reflect and see that, like, my speech has really changed my life just for me leading and building it.

Mike (24:59):

How are you juggling both careers being a full-time medical student and running this startup nonprofit.

Nathan (25:06):

Yeah. Um, so a couple things, I think first thing is team. Uh, I'm blessed to have great executive team, um, primarily people who started. So our executive director, Jenny McGuire, um, is this amazing person who, who stutters from Colorado, who, um, cares a lot about advocacy, uh, particularly around the mental health aspect of stuttering. Um, our operations officer is the keel. Who's a person who stutters, who lead to program in the VA. And he's just passionate about like developing technology solutions for this community. And, and the list goes on and on. And then our, our a hundred plus volunteers around the world. So I'm not doing this alone is my, is my point, uh, point number two is probably, I think when you are passionate about something and you really loved doing something, I think you like make time for it. That's what I've realized.

Nathan (26:16):

Um, and you know, there are, are definitely tough days, right? I mean, if, if I'm sick one week and I already have medical school to balance, it's, it is tough to run a, a, excuse me, a full-time startup, but, um, it's what I enjoy doing. And so I, I just find ways to push through. And then I would say that the, the last point is about habits, right? And the big habit is focus, right? Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, if we have 10 things on our, to, to todo list, you have to prioritize and entrepreneurship is all about prioritization, cuz there's a million things happening at once, especially for non-profits where like fundraising is, is a constant endeavor. Mm-hmm <affirmative> how do you prioritize and sequence them one through 10. And then when you are doing activity in number one, how do you ensure that your mind is not drawn to the fact that you are not tackling 2, 3, 4 or five, are you in the moment and focused on that thing? And it's a skill that, that I've been developing over the past couple years that has really helped me in terms of, of juggling different, uh, endeavors.

Mike (27:31):

You mentioned, you know, in the sort of the vague sense advisors and this group of folks that are, you know, started supporting, you know, who is really key in that process. And as you sort of identified what you, what you thought the problem was, you sort of had this hypothesis of like, here's the problem we wanna solve. Here's our possible solution. How did you know that you were on the right track? How did you sort of get towards product market fit?

Nathan (27:54):

Yeah, <laugh> so that's a great question. Um, starting with the first one, uh, in terms of, of team. So I was a student at that time. So the majority of volunteers, um, were other students at UCLA or people who were, you know, excuse me, adults in their twenties and thirties, who I met at conferences. Um, and they were almost all people who stutter or they were future therapists who were interested in learning about stuttering. Because as I mentioned earlier, a lot, a lot of graduate schools actually like, don't talk about it. So in terms of the early team, the first one or two years, it was that it was myself in the executive director role <affirmative> with young excited, passionate people who stutter. So, um, around me, um, and or people who stutter and therapists, um, and I learned a couple things from that. I think, I think being a completely volunteer run organization in the, you learn really fast that people are busy, right?

Nathan (29:12):

People have ABI things going on. So how do you make it as easy as possible for others to, to get stuff done? And I learned that when you connect people with a mission and you give them a structured plan about how to reach that mission and you provide that to them, that's when people can really unleash their full potential. Right? So it's clarity, it's it's structure. It's having that type of leadership in the beginning was key to, to, um, building the organization in that early stage. And I'll talk a little bit about how the team has evolved. So as we got a little bit more money, right, we started duke bring on people at later stages in life who maybe had more experience. Um, it was less volunteer dependent in terms of our, our core team. And it was much more about, uh, establishing our, our systems, automating, making sure that everything could be done with as little effort as possible in terms of emails, in terms of, of, of communicating with volunteers in terms of like developing documents, how do we just be as efficient as possible?

Nathan (30:33):

So I learned a lot in those early stages that was like the first three, four years. Um, but one thing hasn't changed and that our core team has almost always been people who stutter and sometimes like future therapists. So it's people who care passionately about this problem. And we like remain a mission, uh, driven organization in terms of product market fit. I mean, I think the answer is really failure, right? You just have to keep ITER iterating and keep trying to figure out what works, because like you'll know when product, when product market fit happens. Uh, Sam Altman has a great blog about this. A lot of the, like the Y combined people also like write about this, if you're entirely focused on product market fit, you will know when it's happening. When, um, the, when people are hearing about your product organically, when you like find yourself, uh, starting to get a ton of emails about what's going on, even awards, right?

Nathan (31:39):

Like I think it's very easy in academia to seek awards. I never did that. I was always, I'm gonna, I'm gonna like do the work. I know if I I'm doing good work, then all these external things will start to come. Right. But, but I'm not worried about that. So to talk more specifically in the beginning, our major tool with scholarships, we evolved it. Um, understanding that community is, is so important. We started to in integrate, um, advocacy work, um, bringing in speakers, having our volunteers to talk to different schools, um, uh, uh, go into classrooms, educate peers and teachers about stuttering to work with the different organizations. And then over the past couple months, we have been starting this new, like technology phase, where we are building, um, a digital platform to serve as a marketplace and identify people who stutter, where they are and connect them with a supportive resource across speech therapy community. Um, anything that helps for people. And what I wanna highlight is, is, as I mentioned earlier, every person who stutters is different, right? For Cooper, he didn't need speech therapy. He just had to meet other kids who stuttered for me. I just had to build an organization to help, like with my acceptance journey, it looks different for everyone. So our technology is trying to integrate that piece as well. Um, so that's our, our journey in trying to find product market set.

Mike (33:18):

Can you talk about, you know, a few of those moments where you realized you were headed down the wrong track and you know, how you diagnosed it and how you responded as an organization?

Nathan (33:28):

Yeah. So one of the biggest failures happened very early on in 20 17, 20 18. Um, it was very hard to find people who, people who stutter, like we just weren't growing. And, and that surprised me because my thesis was that the supply for these services is so low and that demand is so high that the finding people who stutter and aggregating demand would not be an issue. It was more about is there enough help to, um, to meet that demand. But it turns out stuttering is so unique in that it's this invisible condition, people who stutter spend their entire lives, a lot of them hiding their stutter. And so how do I go and find people who stutter without, right. Like walking on a street? I wouldn't like, know, you know, if that's a person who stutters who's who I, I, I see like sitting at a restaurant unless I really hear them talk mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Nathan (34:41):

So our first like strategy was to just, uh, reach out to schools, uh, reach out to the, um, our partnerships with the different, like stuttering organizations, like stuttering association for the young, at the time of the actual stutter association, another one called the world, stuttering network, all these groups that like meet people who stutter. But at that time we weren't getting the traction that we wanted. And then I started to think, okay, maybe our go to market plan was actually, um, not, uh, as, uh, effective. Okay. What is the community that is directly adjacent, adjacent to people who stutter a community that might be more amenable to, um, to actually, uh, uh, accessing our resources, but also has that relationship like with people who stutter and after some thought I realized it was speech therapist. So we shifted from trying to find people who stutter, um, to access our services and product, to contacting as many therapists as we can in local schools.

Nathan (36:00):

So we sent like thousands of emails across the country, right? Like school districts everywhere, um, all the big cities. And we emailed every therapist. Right. We went on the school website to the special education department, speech therapists emailed all of them. Uh, it was pretty COVID. So, uh, it <laugh>, it was, um, a little bit different world <laugh> I think back, um, uh, in terms of, it was probably a lot easier to get into schools like back then than it is now. Um, and a lot of them responded and what, like surprised me was a couple things. Number one, a lot, a speech therapist acknowledged that they like don't have training and stuttering. Number two. A lot of them really wanted to tell their kids who stutter in the schools about these, these extra support resources. Um, and that's something I wasn't expecting, uh, like that amount of, of enthusiasm, um, because it's very hard to be told that you could be doing something better. Right. I don't think therapists are bad. Therapists are amazing people, right? Like nobody goes into therapy to make money, but, um, our, our thesis was that what, a lot of what, like they could be doing could be improved. Um, but they were enthusiastic and, and we were able to have that reach. So I learned, I learned a lot from that failure in terms of go to market strategy yet. And, um, and working with those communities,

Mike (37:41):

My speech has had a recent rebrand. Could you just give us the mission statement of the former brand and the new one?

Nathan (37:49):

So that's the interesting, uh, piece of, of this, the, the mission is the exact same mission is access, right? How can we, uh, commit to innovative solutions that help people who stutter access, supportive resources across community education and speech therapy, right? That's always been our mission previously with a stuttering scholarship Alliance, as you, as I have, have hinted that our primary tool was scholarships and community, right? Hence scholarship Alliance, our tools have changed. I think we have proven that there is a problem here that like help actually helps. In a couple of years, we impacted about 20,000 people across 25 countries. And we've seen a remarkable quality of life improvements, um, and emotional wellbeing, fluency, and a reduction in the cost of care up to 10 X. So this help is helping, but our model wasn't scalable. Right. Which is fine. Uh, I mean, early on in, in a lot of startups, there, there like services probably aren't, uh, scalable.

Nathan (39:14):

So I started to think more about what the best way to scale and access solution is. And I realized that if there was a platform, a marketplace that could do two things, number one, take any person who stutters around the world. They can log onto an app and be connected with another person who stutters a therapist, a community, you know, chats, or even just, uh, asynchronous, um, um, mobile applications to help them practice their speaking articles and videos. That's something that would have changed in my life because all of that information, people who stutter learn about that over decades, we could provide that at the point of service on an app, it could change a lot of lives. So we are building that marketplace right now, where we take people who stutter from around the world and we can connect them with those supported resources to, to actually unlock their full potential. The second aspect of this is data, and the fact that stuttering in speech therapy are very opaque markets.

Nathan (40:39):

Um, so I'll give the example of a, uh, a marketplace. Everybody like knows about Uber, right? Um, the, the main thesis behind Uber was people who wanted rides and people who were willing to give them those were relatively opaque markets, especially if you didn't live in New York city, right. As you know, um, so how can we understand where these two groups of people are and, and create a platform to connect them? So what we are trying to to do is understand where people who stutter are and where the support services are and connect them and do it. But now we are taking that one step further. We increase engagement by adding on a community. And we also use the power of data to understand people who stutter and where they are in their journey. The resource that helps me and, and helped Cooper is, is different. So is there a way we can understand, understand that difference and, and connect them with the resource that best helps them. So that's the ultimate goal of our marketplace. So it's one a connector, and it's two, a way to understand people who stutter using data in a way that never has been done before in this market.

Mike (42:06):

You think about impact though, and reaching 20,000 people around the world. What is that like atomic unit of impact that you're going for?

Nathan (42:13):

Number one, I think every nonprofit will always track the quantity, right? How many people have we sure have we reached our goal is to reach 500,000 people. Um, by the end of 20, 20, 25, that's about 0.2% of the population of people who stutter. But I think what's more important for any marketplace is the quality of the impact is the help helping mm-hmm <affirmative> because we are bridge, we're a connector is the service that we connect people to using our recommendations AC actually actually helpful mm-hmm <affirmative>. So we want to track that and track quality of life, emotional wellbeing, right? A lot of those indications for mental health to see how people are doing, if something isn't working out, that's fine. We can connect them with something else, if something is working out awesome. We want to know why, so that's how we are going to measure impacts over the next five to, to 10 years, at least.

Mike (43:28):

How do you go about that? Are you talking about like user surveys or what sort of data points are you gonna pull in?

Nathan (43:33):

Yeah, I would say primarily like user surveys, there's established research and stuttering. Um, there are different surveys to measure the overall impact of stuttering on people's quality of life in incorporating their like mental health, um, health. There's another survey that can measure the what's called like stages of change. So where people who stutter are in that acceptance journey there's, um, other surveys that like measure spontaneity. So the idea behind spontaneity is are people like stutter trying to pass off, um, as fluent, but speaking like a robot or are they okay with the fact that they are going to stutter spontaneously? Um, so it's primarily like user surveys in the beginning. I think over time, hopefully we can gather more constitutive information, um, based on the amount of time people spend on a particular solution, how sticky that solution is, like, things like that. But I would say our primary objective is, is, um, self-reporting

Mike (44:47):

Talk to you about signing up for and, and being accepted to Fast Forward.

Nathan (44:51):

Yeah, it was, I mean, it was, it was a blessing, I mean, fast forward is this amazing accelerator that, um, I think might be the only one, particularly for tech nonprofits. Um, so I wanted to build an organization that from the beginning has been entirely mission driven. Our goal is, is not to right, like, uh, increase our revenue, like for investors is to change the lives of people who stutter mm-hmm <affirmative>. But I also wanted to be innovative and use technology to scale our solution and reach as many people as we can. That's a very unique intersection <laugh> yeah. Um, because, you know, I grew up in Silicon valley a lot, a lot of the excitement is around for profit startups. Um, but, but like that didn't really like fit, like what I wanted to do. Um, uh, if you are using technology and then the other alternative is built a foundation, right.

Nathan (46:01):

Um, and, and raise money and raise money for research. Now, those two options are valuable, right? I'm not saying, um, people shouldn't do that. It wasn't what I wanted to do. Right. Mm-hmm it wasn't like my barometer for success. Uh, I wanted to use technology to, to scale services, to help people lose stutter mm-hmm <affirmative>. And in that like three phased <laugh>, uh, mission, I found that building a tech, nonprofit really helped and fast forward is the creme Dre of, of tech, nonprofit accelerators. And, and they have just been amazing, um, in terms of helping me focus, uh, as a nonprofit founder, helping me deal with the unique challenges of managing, uh, board of working with volunteers. How do you, how do you like fundraise effectively? How do you, how do you motivate people? How do you build a technology while also continuing to run this, this organization and then above all else?

Nathan (47:07):

The most amazing thing about fast forward is really community, right? So I'm, I'm in medical school, which I love medical school, but, um, not everybody in medical school is building a, a nonprofit startup. And as I saw, like with my stutter community, is everything a sense of belonging is everything people who have a shared experience. So my cohort mates, as well as alumni, just picking their brain, sharing our, our struggles being vulnerable is everything right. I wouldn't, I wouldn't, uh, be able there's a lot of days where I, I wouldn't be able, able to, to keep going, unless I really had that kind of community and support. And I think every, every entrepreneur like needs that I truly do believe it. Um, because there are a lot of ups and a lot of doubts <laugh>

Mike (48:00):

You guys started out very grassroots, very, very volunteer run. Um, I think you've grown to about a hundred thousand dollars a year. How did you start to get that initial support for the organization and how do you guys fundraise today?

Nathan (48:12):

Yeah, so in the beginning it was a lot of university grants, uh, grassroots fundraising through crowd funding, um, and a combination of that right now, it's, um, uh, we get a lot of grants from private foundations, um, and, uh, and that's been a major source of, of revenue, also a corporate partnerships. So we have partnered with organizations like Microsoft and Salesforce to, um, establish that funding relationship. Uh, and then in terms of, of looking to the future, the hope is that we also start generating earned revenue, um, through our marketplace. And the goal is not to make a profit, right? The goal is to make our systems and platform sustainable, uh, so that we can continue to be around for decades and really scale to, uh, change millions of lives.

Mike (49:24):

Do you see yourself following through with med school and becoming a physician of some kind, or are you gonna stick with nonprofit and tech kind of what's, what's your future roadmap looking like?

Nathan (49:34):

Yeah. Short answer is, uh, I'm not entirely sure, but the slightly longer answer is that I love the like social entrepreneurship work. Like nothing has given me the energy and enthusiasm, uh, the ups and downs, right. A lot of downs as entrepreneurship has. So whether I do residency and clinical and clinical practice or not, I will definitely have entrepreneurship in my future career. Um, uh, the like 10 year goal for now is to, is to continue to build like my speech. Um, and in 10 years, I really do hope it's at a place where it's impacting millions of lives. Um, and then after that, we'll see,

Mike (50:31):

You know, anyone listening to this, you know, whether they are interested in getting involved as a volunteer, making a donation, you know, maybe signing up for services as a person who stutters or as a service provider of some kind, how can they find my speech and support your work?

Nathan (50:45):

So, first of all, if you are listening and you empathize with our mission, uh, definitely reach, reach out to us, my speech Um, there's a contact us a section and just send us an email. We would love to hear from you, whether you're a volunteer or a donor, whoever, or, or just, uh, you want to hear, um, more about the organization, happy having to, to chat in that, in that way.

Mike (51:19):

That's our show for this week. Big, thank you to Nathan for chatting with us and to Fast Forward for introducing us as so many amazing social entrepreneurs. As always, there's more information in the show notes, please check them out at If you're enjoying the show, please take a moment to share your favorite episode with a friend or colleague, be us review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks so much for being a part of our community. Thanks also for supporting the show through its first series of episodes. It's been amazing to meet so many incredible leaders. Hopefully you've learned a lot from hearing their stories. I definitely know that I have. Thanks also to those of you who have reached out for recommendations for potential guests and ideas, for ways we can make cause and purpose. Even better with that in mind, we're gonna take a few months off.

Mike (52:02):

We're gonna do a bit of traveling, unwind and start gearing up for our next slate of episodes. We have some incredible guests lines up for season two, and we can't wait to share them with you in the meantime, feel free to catch up on some of your favorite episodes, check out. Some of you may have missed and feel free to reach out anytime using the forms on our website. We're always open to suggestions and new guest ideas until then cause and purposes of production and on behalf of myself, Nathan and our entire team. Thanks so much for listening and we look forward to speaking with you again later this year. Cheers.

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