In the latest of our profiles of women who have reinvented themselves in midlife, we talk to Louise Chunn who, after a career as a magazine editor, decided to become an digital entrepreneur and set up her own online psychotherapy directory, Welldoing.org. Then she went to Silicon Valley for a digital founders’ crash course!
An interview with Louise Chunn, founder of Welldoing
What made you decide to do what you do?
My journalistic career had effectively ground to a halt after I left Psychologies, as magazines and newspapers are going through seismic changes because of the internet. I looked around for something that resonated with me and my own experience, and remembered that when I wanted to find a therapist I’d found “a hole in the market”. The choice was overwhelming and what could improve that was technology. So there is an element of gamekeeper turned poacher in my new career as a digital entrepreneur.
Why did you wait until you did to make the change?
Well, like many things in my life it wasn’t exactly a choice. I wasn’t working for quite a while, and I didn’t feel confident that I would find a job that I would feel really engaged with in the way I had in some of the places I’d worked (like Psychologies, Vogue, The Guardian, In Style). This is much more than another job change. I’m involved in business, in tech, in mental health. It really is a whole new world for me – and I am very much enjoying it – but it isn’t the result of a long-term plan.
What are you hoping to accomplish?
I am very clear about that. I want welldoing.org to be the go-to place for people who are looking to find the best therapist or counsellor for their needs. I also want them to find lots of great content, from experts or people who are sharing their experiences. There are signs that the stigma about “owning up” to having an emotional problem is shifting, but therapy itself is still an unknown quantity to many people in the UK. I would love to be a truly significant part of the demystification process.
How did you make the change? What or who helped you?
I’ve been involved with a variety of people along the way, some more successfully than others. Some of my female friends – women who were early adopters of tech in journalism – were inspirational and encouraging when I was very tentative in the early days; the late Georgina Henry of The Guardian and Mary Ellen Barker, ex-Reuters. More recently Sarah Drinkwater who heads up Google Campus London and Suzanne Noble founder of Frugl, whom I met at a Founders over 50 group (organised by Campus London), both gave me real, practical advice.
How did your family and friends react?
I think my family and friends have been great. My husband has agreed to a pretty substantial investment – and supporting us all with his salary as I have been paid nothing so far. My children too are generally very positive. I think they can see that as it is literally our business, I felt very serious about the time and energy I give to it. Over the years I’ve been involved with a few publications that might have seemed a little shallow to some friends —- they’re pretty cool about this endeavour, as it’s so clearly more than about making a living (though that is very important too!)
How has your life changed having gone down this path?
My life is completely different. I work largely from home, with one day a week in Shoreditch. I work with a tech partner, business development partner and an assistant, though not all together every day. The biggest change was when I won a place on a two-week accelerator course (Blackbox) in Silicon Valley. That was mind-blowing! I felt excited, exhausted and terrified through most of the period. But it really made me see the full potential of what I’d started, and pumped up my ambition to the power of 10 (as they say in Silicon Valley)!
It was also fabulous to spend that time with 18 other fellow founders from all over the world. I was the oldest, and one of only three women, but that didn’t feel odd. We all got along brilliantly well, and we stay in touch and support each other when needed.
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
My advice would be to start with research. Read a lot, talk to people, get out into the industry you are targeting as much as you can. Go to free talks, sign up for newsletters, ask to meet people whose trajectory you think looks like what you have in mind. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do – these kind of businesses often evolve into something quite different. But don’t imagine that you can just jump
What do you love most about being the age you are?
I genuinely don’t care as much about what people think of me. I found that pretty crippling in some ways when I was younger, and it’s a relief to lose that self-consciousness. I like having grown-up children with whom I can have great conversations, rather having to be “the Mum” – though I still have one in her mid-teens, so that kind of mothering is not all over yet for me.
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
What can I say that doesn’t sound vain?! My hair has been grey (though I have blonde highlights put in) for so long no-one would know me as the brunette I once was. I wish my skin was less dry and my waist was less spread. But to be youthfully slim again, I’d have to be much more careful about food than I am prepared to be. And of course, the mid-life hangovers are terrible. No wonder lots of women give up drinking at this point!
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
I had lots of great opportunities and very good luck, but I didn’t have any kind of plan and I think if I had done, I would have a greater sense of autonomy now. But the truth is, I’m not that kind of person so life is always going to have a roller-coaster quality. I would say that way of living is definitely more fun when you’re in your twenties —- in your 50s it can keep you awake at night!
What are the most important business and/or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
I am still learning the most important business lesson: it’s about money. As a former editor I was paid a monthly salary to be creative, and I can still get very drawn into the content side of the site. I’m proud of its quality but, really, I’m in business and I need to be more focused on getting money. Both from the therapists whose practices we market, and from investors. This is serious stuff —- but also a whole new world to understand and operate in. Exciting as well as nerve-wracking.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
They’re all a bit cliched, but I do find myself thinking: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I have “kia kaha” pinned to my office wall. It’s Maori and it means “stay strong”. The crowds in New Zealand shout it at the All Blacks —- I mutter it to myself when things get sticky.
Which woman do you most admire and why?
I admire Joni Mitchell. She’s a brilliant songwriter, she’s worked with the absolute best musicians in her field, and she was so far ahead of the field in the way she sang, played and produced. No-one told her what to do; she lives life as she decides.
I also admire JK Rowling. I’ve never read a word she’s written (my kids did) but I like the way she stands up for people less fortunate than her and uses her money to good effect, with compassion. I read about so many women in business who – I know I shouldn’t say it — I can’t imagine spending any time with. Somehow, I think she would be a much more companionable woman than many of the top layer of “power women”.
Is there anything people consistently misunderstand about you?
People used to say I seemed stand off-ish. They don’t any more. I think I used to take the status of some of my jobs a bit seriously, so they didn’t really misunderstand me, did they!
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do? .
I’d love Mutton Club readers to have a look at welldoing.org. If they’re thinking about therapy, they can simply answer our questionnaire to see what sort of therapists would be best for them. But there’s loads of content that is more in the wellbeing and self-development space. For example, there are posts about nutrition and yoga, family relationships, sex, work —- all of life is there! We’d love you to take a look, and contribute if you feel like telling your own story.
You can read more about Louise’s trip to Silicon Valley in Vogue.
You may also like Sally Hendrick – Midlife Reinvention and From Full-Time Mom To Social Media Expert – Jen Lehner