Roxanne and Matt met with Mallory at assessURhealth’s office and we had an awesome conversation about ending the mental health stigma, Tampa’s tech progress, and what it’s like being a woman in tech.
Roxanne Williams: You just won emerging tech company of the year from Tampa Bay Tech. Congratulations! In your words, what makes assessURhealth cutting edge in terms of tech?
Mallory Tai Taylor: We’re actually taking the hot tech solutions that exist right now: APIs, apps, and algorithms, and we’re tackling a problem that is hitting our social fiber, which is mental health. No one’s really dealing with it right now because no one wants to talk about it, or the stigma is too vast and they don’t know how to deal with it. We like to think we’re on the cutting edge of it because we’re really taking, again, those sexy hot topics of tech and we’re providing, globally, a solution for the individuals.
Roxanne: Excellent. This wasn’t on my list of questions, but I kind of want to talk about the stigma behind mental health because it’s just so prevalent now. With almost everybody you meet, there’s something going on. What are some things an individual can do to encourage discussion and end the stigma?
Mallory: A social community platform that we have here is #endthestigma. The idea behind that is really trying to get into the communities that we serve and breaking down the stigma, and having the broader conversations that need to be had. The great part about our product is really breaking down the stigma that exists for the patient and the provider to have the conversation. The idea is that our product is introduced normally in a primary care setting, or a doctor-patient setting, and it’s patient-driven. The patient is interacting with an application where the iPad is not going to raise an eyebrow at them if they say they have more than one drink a day or one drink a week or whatever the case is. I know personally for me, if a person is asking me questions, I’m a little bit more guarded.
Matt Vaughn: I’ve never had a cigarette. I drink at weddings only.
Mallory: Exactly, right. Holidays and holidays only! So, we’re really trying to get people to be more comfortable and know that they can actually be truthful in their answers, and that there’s not going to be a judgement. It’s going to be help, and it’s going to allow the conversation to open up and be more naturally-flowing, and really help save lives – and we know that has happened. So, that’s part of it. The other part of it is really trying to raise awareness and money for community activities such as the Out of the Darkness Walk, which is for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We’re really big supporters of that, not just in the Tampa Bay community, but other walks throughout the nation. We really try to drive those wherever we are, even if it’s a paid-for event at one of our vendors’ user groups. We bring our #endthestigma wall and we get people who are there to participate and really start thinking, drive awareness, and start telling them about statistics that exist. Every 40 seconds, someone completes suicide. Those are heart-wrenching things to think about.
When we did HIMSS, the largest health technology conference in the world, in Las Vegas this past year, we had a ticker on there. We started at the beginning of the event, and then three days later, we ended it. The number of people that died while we were at that event, either from completing suicide, opioid overdose, or alcohol misuse, was almost 300,000.
Mallory: Those people have faces, dads, moms, sisters, brothers, children. It really gets to you when you start thinking about it. We all can make a difference and try to have that conversation, and if we see someone struggling, say something, just listen, tell them you’re willing to listen. Those are all things that we can do individually. We don’t have to be superheroes, we don’t have to be Marvel or DC to make a difference, we don’t have to be doctors to make a difference. We can just be every day human beings, friends and neighbors.
Roxanne: I feel like social media kind of complicates all this now. On Facebook, you see all the highlights of everybody’s life. It makes it hard to be human and share problems openly when all you see are shiny happy people in your timeline.
Mallory: I don’t know who said it so I’ll probably butcher the quote, but someone recently said “Social media is only to show people what you don’t have.” Most of the time, people are so focused on showing this picture-perfect life in their work or their personal life that really is non-existent. It’s a fairy tale, it’s the Cinderella story. And it makes the rest of us think “Oh, well I don’t have that life so I must be less of a person.” But we’re not, and those people probably don’t really have all that either. So yes, I think social media is a huge part of it. I think media in general tends to make it a little bit harder.
Matt: Yeah, it’s definitely interesting. At the Tampa Bay Iron Yard’s demo day during its last cohort, one of the graduates did an emotional intelligence Twitter scraper. It would scan when and what people were posting, trying to see signs of change in their emotional state. Let’s say someone’s posting at 3am about something sad, whereas before they were posting before 10pm and it was all happy, that would set off triggers of hey, something might be going on with this person.
Even more scary is, I recently saw someone announce their suicide on Twitter. It was confirmed shortly after.
Mallory: Oh my God. That’s devastating.
Matt: Yeah, social media’s an interesting beast.
Mallory: It is. And the fact that people don’t realize how much power exists in those platforms and that their words have consequences. People say “Oh, well you’re in control of how you feel or how people make you feel.” Okay… But if you’re being bullied constantly like that, there’s not an escape from it. So I really wish people would take more ownership and responsibility for the fact that what they say has consequences and my goodness, how much bigger of a consequence can you get than someone’s life?
Matt: Exactly. To go back to what you were saying with the stigma behind mental health and what you’re doing. I know some people that lie about their personal life to doctors because it’s hard to have the conversation around it, but just out of my own curiosity, how much of that verbatim gets spit back to the doctor as far as what their answers were? Is it just kind of highlighting some things? Is it verbatim what they put in?
Mallory: What happens is that their answers are calculated using our proprietary algorithms, and everything is validated tools by the World Health Organization that we’re using. But what’s happening is our algorithms come into place, and it also involves skip logic because it’s a smart app, and then the two of you (Roxanne and Matt) are going to have different questions because you’re different genders – so during somatic symptom, it’s obviously not asking you (Matt) embarrassing female questions, and then for me, it’s even more different because you guys are maybe going to answer you never drink, and I drink nightly, so it’s going to ask me more questions.
Based off of that, it then creates an instant calculated report. It’s like a consolidated report and it gives the doctor your health risk classification, minimal to severe and everywhere in between, of how likely your risk is for depression, anxiety, somatic symptom, opioid risk, alcohol misuse, we have a variance of PTSD, and post-natal extra add-ons. So it gives them that color-coded report with the severities and then also their patient risk score so they can kind of go over it with them. And the whole idea is that it’s meant to be really friendly. We spent a lot of time researching the colors. Our UI was completely done using color psychology so it’s very friendly for our users. The colors are literally banana yellow, kiwi green, fruit punch red, mango orange. They’re not scary, overwhelming ‘you’ve done something wrong’ colors, because that’s not what we want.
To answer your original question, yes, the doctor gets a consolidated report. They also do get the individual questions and the answers because, say the patient scored high on depression severity, the doctor needs to know why. The doctor needs to dive into ‘are they a risk to themselves?’ and ‘do we need to need to take action immediately?’ So, yes, the individual answers are there and it has to be for true comprehensive care. But in essence, it’s different because the patient is not having to articulate that on the front end.
Matt: Interesting. What do you guys leverage to make sure PHI data is secure?
Mallory: We go above and beyond HIPAA and HITRUST requirements. HIPAA’s one of the requirements of the US government, so depending on whatever country we’re in, we abide by those specific security parameters and then we go a little bit above and beyond, because we know how important that is, and people are even more nervous about their mental health information.
Matt: Excellent. What got you first involved with assessURhealth? Passion for mental health, passion for tech, passion for patient care?
Mallory: Mine’s a very personal story. One of my very dear childhood friends completed suicide in 2015. She was a returning vet who had been seeking help and couldn’t get it, and we didn’t see the signs, basically.
I was in healthcare technology for our sister company in the Tampa Bay area at the time. I was working with doctors a lot, and one of the things they kept telling me is it’s more common than you think. Mental illness affects 1 in 4 people, and it’s getting worse as time progresses.
Two months later, my co-founder/CEO’s daughter attempted. So we’re like, alright, we’ve got to do something. And so, in true fashion of kind of how I work and how he works, he said, “Go figure this out while you’re still working at our company now (DAS). Go try to figure it out.” And we did. And that’s how assessURhealth was born.
Matt: I knew there was a connection but wasn’t sure if you were still a part of DAS or completely spun off.
Mallory: No, we’re completely independent, we split off. We’ve been an independent entity since 2015, but we were kind of underneath their broader umbrella – and then officially, I went out 100% on my own in June of 2017.
Roxanne: As far as women in tech goes, what can we do in Tampa to make tech more inclusive?
Mallory: Be better mentors to our younger and current generations. Women like to say that men are keeping women down in board roles or C-suite roles or tech roles or STEM roles in general, but we also need to look inward at ourselves. We need to be better mentors to our own gender as well and we need to be better at helping lift them up, pulling them out of the tank, propping them up, and not being so worried about women coming from other markets or women coming from within our own organizations and leapfrogging us or whatever the case is. We need to be more supportive and inclusive to our own before we can expect that to happen outside of our gender.
Roxanne: It is very competitive.
Mallory: It is, and I don’t understand it as much because why does it matter if you have a male or a female competitor? They’re a competitor. You should look at them as that, treat them as that, and forget about the gender so much – but I’m telling you, you put two women up against each other and it’s going to be rough. I am always a little bit controversial in my statements about women because I really dislike when women play the woe is me, poor me card. We’re better than that, we’re stronger than that, let’s act like it.
Roxanne: It’s kind of funny you say that. You’re my 3rd or 4th woman interview – most of them have been men – but I asked Joy Randels the same question and she said – I’m paraphrasing here – “I think we need to do the work ourselves. It’s not fair to keep blaming men for everything. Men go after what they want and we need to do that too.”
Mallory: Why are we so afraid to ask for it? This question got raised to me recently because New York is now making it illegal to ask how much people make when you’re interviewing, and they said it’s predominantly because that’s why there’s such a huge gender wage gap. And I’m like no, we need to teach women to say ‘hey I’ve done this, this, this, and this. I deserve to make this. I’ve earned this wage.’ How about we teach women how to be better and how to know that they deserve to make that amount of money, that they’ve earned that? That’s really what we need to do, be better teachers.
Roxanne: It’s hard to escape the conditioning that – I hate to say it, but it’s still that whole stereotype from the ‘50s where the women are meek and it’s just expected that we either make less or – well, I don’t have to explain gender roles. It’s still a thing. It’s sad, but it’s still a thing.
Mallory: It absolutely is.
Matt: I think that’s a question a lot of people have trouble with in general, regardless of gender. Most people are not taught to specifically ask for more, even if their experience equates to that. It’s something that we see every single day – somebody that’s worth $20,000 more is asking for $20,000 less.
Roxanne: Have you faced any discrimination in your career as a woman in tech?
Mallory: Of course. But I don’t think it’s exclusive to tech, or even from being a woman exclusively. I think it’s age, gender, and industry – and that’s in tech, healthcare, and business all kind of summed into one. So, it’s a constant thing that happens, absolutely.
Roxanne: How do you handle it?
Mallory: It depends on the situation. I think older men in my industries probably don’t see the same type of situation.
I get questioned a lot for my capabilities. “Oh, you created this software? Where’s your boss?” Or, “Oh, you’re negotiating the contract. I would really like to talk to the decision maker on this.” I tell them I am the decision maker. “Oh, no, him. I would like to speak to him, your boss. Is he available?” It always gives me great pleasure to inform them that I am the decision maker and I did create the software and I’m happy to answer any questions that they may have, technical or otherwise. And that tends to get a great reaction. That is really how I help overcome that. And when all fails in those categories, if I’m still interested in doing business with them after that, I will bring in my CEO, who is a male, and he always is good fun because he’ll come in and immediately go, “I really have no say in this. You really need to deal with Mallory.” So, having a good partner like that makes it obviously a lot easier. I’m lucky.
Roxanne: Nice. That’s awesome.
Matt: I don’t think we really touched on this too much but what exactly are your day-to-day responsibilities, what hand did you have in the software in the company?
Mallory: Yeah, so the co-founder and chief architect of assessURhealth actually designed the software platform and continued to design it moving forward as we do product development roll-outs. And my day-to-day, that’s funny. I need to change my title to Chief Juggling Officer.
Matt: That’s a good one.
Mallory: I have a lot of brains in the air, so to speak. I don’t really have a typical day-to-day operational function. It’s a post-revenue startup, so we’re making money, yay! But it’s anywhere from sales to product development to marketing to client relations. I’ll go and do an implementation if I need to. Someone wise once told me that you need to be strategic enough to make a plan on how you clean the toilet and then you need to pick up the brush and actually clean it in front of your team. And so, that’s what I believe in. I believe in being the strategic officer of the company and where we’re going, where we’re headed, and where our growth plan is, but then I need to pick up the toilet brush, I need to show them that I can do it too.
Matt: Servant leadership is underutilized in general.
Matt: What is the company culture like? How much growth have you seen in the last 2 years?
Mallory: So, we’re very family-oriented here, and I know that’s probably a very common phrase that you hear, but that’s really what we are. We’re very small but we’re mighty. We really believe in helping each other grow, and so I very much have an open door policy. I normally have tissues there. I will do whatever I need to help you personally and professionally develop. Our core lead performance reviews involve a personal goals section. I want to be able to help you achieve that if I can. We do personal SWOTs. I don’t want to goal you based on your weakness, there’s never going to be a success based off of that.
We have to be really effective here because we are so small. We have to wear multiple hats. “It’s not my job” is not a phrase we use here. It never will be or you won’t work out. We have extremely high expectations, but I also like to reward very much as well. And that involves 3 o’clock tea time, to breaking in that first office where we have hackathons. You have a problem you can’t solve within your own department? Let’s time out, stop, let’s all go try to figure out how to do it together. So, we really are a community and we support each other.
Roxanne: How many employees do you have at this point?
Mallory: 5. Yeah, 5 employees but we’re doubling in size in openings right now and we’ve been really lucky to partner with outside vendors and contractors to allow us to stay pretty small. It’s worked out for us.
Roxanne: Is there a particular moment or project in your career that you’re super proud of? What’s your top highlight?
Mallory: I try not to get sappy, but probably every time a client tells us our product helped save a life. It’s pretty hard to beat that. Never gets old. I get emotional every time that happens because each one of them has a story, and it’s meaningful, and it’s a life, and we’ll never beat that.
Our version that came out in February also added a client portal so our clients have immediate access not only to the patient record (we have interfaces that go directly into electronic health records), but we also have a client portal that we built that has a self-harm alert. It’s an additional algorithm that flags our clients to let them know we think that there’s possibly a self-harm issue here for a patient. It was pretty cool when that came out because it’s just an added level of really trying to get that data into the provider’s hands faster.
Matt: I’m just curious of the clients that you work with, obviously it’s used a lot with the patients, but is it also open or utilized by hospital employees?
Mallory: It depends on what the contract is. As long as the results are going to a healthcare clinician, we’re pretty open to whatever vertical is available. We’ll work with employee assistance programs, universities or university staff, hospitals, ambulatory, but then also government agencies or insurance companies as well that want to help protect lives and do one-offs.
Matt: Excellent. What would you consider to be the most difficult situation you’ve had to deal with in your career and how has it helped you grow?
Mallory: Being an entrepreneur is pretty challenging overall. There have absolutely been days that I wanted to quit.
Matt: It’d be crazy if you didn’t.
Mallory: Right. Frustrations when a prospect doesn’t see the value that you know you can provide to them, and being lean on top of all of it, trying to have the bandwidth to go from one side to the other and really wear all the hats in between. But it makes it worth it when you get a big win and you get to celebrate with your team together and you just have to keep focusing on that because without it, you’ll never make it.
That’s what entrepreneurship is. Just when you feel like you don’t have anything left in the tank, you find your entrepreneur burner thrusters, you switch them on, and magically, it somehow gives you just a little bit more in the tank to be able to accomplish it.
Roxanne: You’re accomplished as heck. Have you felt pressure to keep performing so highly all the time and have you gotten a bit burned out? How do you deal with it?
Mallory: Constantly feel the pressure. Probably more so from my perfectionism than anything, which, I suppose that’s a good thing too though because it keeps me driven. It’s one of the things that keeps me always wanting more. But that can be dangerous too, and it can lead into burnout a lot of times. I think part of my problem personally is I tend to get bored easily so I’ve had to constantly evolve or come up with new projects or plans. That’s why being an entrepreneur is probably a great place for me to be because there’s always something new and different, but I will get burned out from boredom if I don’t continuously challenge myself or intellectually stimulate myself in whatever I’m doing. If I don’t have that, burnout will happen, but it will be burnout from boredom.
Mallory: You haven’t heard that one before.
Matt: I feel the same way. I’m a bit of a creative type and always jump between different outlets to stay engaged and stave off boredom.
Mallory: Creativity will constantly drive you to need more, because that’s the definition of being a creative mind and person, and if you’re not creating, you feel like you’re going to die, and it’s death by boredom.
Roxanne: For me, the perfectionist thing stems from OCD.
Mallory: I suffer from OCD and I’m perfectly fine with that being on the record. I see therapists. I go to therapy. I’m 100% proud of it. I encourage everybody who works with me, has been my friend, is a family member, etc – I highly encourage therapy because it does help you with that. But that is a huge struggle for me because I like everything in its place, details really do matter, and I have to really watch myself because people are human beings, including me, and it’s really easy to forget that we’re human when we’re doing that. And it’s okay to make a mistake, but that’s really hard to sink in.
Roxanne: I think you’re the first person in the wild that I’ve met that has OCD as well.
Mallory: Yeah. People in my life like to joke that I don’t call it OCD, I call it CDO because why would you do that someone that has OCD? Put the letters out of order?!
Matt: That’s great. A couple of dyslexics in my life feel the same way about how complicated the word dyslexia is.
Mallory: Right, why would you do that? Why would you–
Roxanne: It’s just cruel on purpose!
Mallory: It really is.
Matt: To flip it a little bit more towards the technology and the market side, what do you hope to see in Tampa Bay when it comes to tech in the next few years?
Mallory: I would obviously love to see more women-led tech companies, that would be incredible. But more tech companies period would be nice. What is the scuttlebutt around Tampa is that we want to make ourselves the new east coast Silicon Valley. I think we’re absolutely making strides to that but we’ve got a ways to go. Startup Weekend, Synapse, and everything that’s going on is fantastic. Applause to all of the women and men who are behind those. But I think we need to do more in the business community to invite tech companies here, not just starting ones here, but inviting existing ones over as well, and not be so afraid of them. And that’s going to really be a partnership of our leaders in the community: the tech leaders, the business leaders, and then our actual political leaders all need to get together and figure out how we’re going to make this next step go. I mean, what Vinik is doing is nothing short of amazing, and I know there’s a tech component to what he’s doing, but how do we capitalize on that even more?
Matt: Anything that you’d like to say to anyone thinking about going into tech, any words of wisdom from your years in the industry?
Mallory: Be flexible. Have patience. I hope that you naturally take the initiative for things because tech is constantly evolving, and if you’re not staying ahead of it, it’s going to be a rough life. So, just make sure that you’re constantly staying ahead. I think part of it is that technologists tend to always want to create and innovate, which is incredibly important – that’s how we continue to evolve. But I would warn them also to remember to protect and defend. That bottom left hand quadrant is very important as well because if you don’t do that, you lose sight of your current base and that can be dangerous to growth.
Matt: Great insights.
Roxanne: Who is a person and/or an organization that you think is doing something right in the area?
Mallory: Lakshmi Shenoy and Jeff Vinik with Embarc. I mean, I can’t wait for when you interview her. I think what they’re doing with Embarc is really exciting and I can’t wait to see what comes of that. I think that could be one of the next stepping stones for the community but yeah, what they’re doing is amazing and I’m really excited to see what happens.
Matt: Any further thoughts or insights, anything exciting coming up for you or for the company or things that you’re part of that you want to talk about?
Mallory: Due to us quadrupling in the last six months, we’re going to be more than doubling our team, so that’s pretty exciting – adding the right family members to that. 2019 is really me focused on expanding our verticals globally as well, more than we have before, so providing our solution to the global market that is in need of it as well is definitely exciting for us.
assessURhealth is a patient-driven, electronic mental and behavioral health screening tool that allows clinicians and healthcare professionals to assess patients for various mental health risk classifications.
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