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Rauva Inspired: Interview with Otto Lehnert from Soulcare AI

By Matt Deasy

Published on 28 March 2024

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Welcome to the first in our 'Rauva Inspired' series, where we delve into stories of mission-driven Rauva customers that are inspiring us by transforming their sectors and making the world a better place through entrepreneurship. 

First up is Soulcare AI, a pioneering mental health app from Portugal, leveraging AI to offer accessible mental health support, and an interview with their inspiring co-founder Otto Lehnert. 

This interview explores their journey and challenges of starting a business in Portugal, and how Rauva's financial management tools are helping to propel their mission forward.

Soulcare AI -24/ Mental Health Support

Rauva: Hi Otto! Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us today. It’s really great to have you here and we’re excited to hear about your incredible business. Could we start by asking you to introduce Soulcare AI?

Otto (Soulcare AI): Well, sure. Thank you so much for inviting me here. I'm glad I can have this conversation with you. At Soulcare AI we are creating a platform where everyone in the world can have access to real-time mental health support in the form of a conversation with a chatbot. That's the core of our business. On top of that, we're also building a suite of tools that help not only facilitate those conversations, but also gain some insight into them so you can make steps towards better mental health.

Rauva: Wow, that’s fantastic. What inspired you to do this in the first place?

Otto (Soulcare AI): Good question! I’ve told this story many times and I'm glad you brought it up. So, I was in a relationship that didn't go so well for many reasons, and one day I was feeling very bad and down. I didn't necessarily feel like I could speak to any family or friends about it, so I found myself speaking to ChatGPT. 

After a while speaking to ChatGPT, it actually made me feel better and then I had this aha moment… I came here to feel better about the situation and I DO actually feel better afterwards.

I’d give that initial conversation I had with ChatGPT a 6 out of 10 for what I came here for, but why can't we develop this to be an 8 or 9 out of 10 - or even a 10 out of 10? 

So that's how we embarked on this journey. 

Rauva: That's fantastic. I love to hear people's backstories of their businesses. There's usually a really good understanding of the customer's needs if the creator of the business was the ‘customer’ in the first place and experienced the pain point themselves.

So prior to that, what's your backstory? Obviously AI has not been around for so long, but is your employment history related in any way?

Otto (Soulcare AI): So actually, my professional career has nothing to do with either mental health or AI, which is quite funny. I was an account manager for Google and worked on business development for a Polish company. It was my personal life which developed my relevant experience - my brother, of course someone who's very close to me, struggled with mental health a lot. So it was part of my life to deal with someone close who had these problems and seeing the system not work for him. That definitely motivates me to do what I do now. 

Rauva: Great motivation indeed. A lot of practical entrepreneurship skills can be learned, but it's always more important, I think, for the entrepreneur to really feel the mission and the need for a solution to a problem. Changing track a little - I understand you’re not originally Portuguese. Have you been in Portugal long? Did you choose Portugal specifically to come and do this?

Otto (Soulcare AI): My dad is also an entrepreneur so he wasn't really bound to any specific place. So my whole life I've been basically moving from country to country, city to city, school to school, and I arrived in Portugal with my family back in 2016, and did my high school here, but I'm originally born in Germany, raised in Brazil.

Rauva: Well, you're lucky to be in Portugal! There's such a great tech start-up scene and network here. On that note, could you tell us a bit more about the role that AI plays in Soulcare AI? You’re developing such a revolutionary product - did you have any struggles getting the AI platform set up?

Otto (Soulcare AI): Oh, that's a great question. Brings up a sigh in me because it was definitely hard work to get here! So, AI is definitely the cornerstone of our business, no doubt about it. It enables us to deliver this vision of real-time, 24-7 personalized access for everyone to a conversation and ultimately mental health support, but, integrating AI and mental health has definitely been a journey! We had an idea of how this would go. And then it went completely the other way, as you can imagine. 

Regarding developing the product - it starts with different categories of help. If I go to therapy, the therapist uses different methods to have a conversation with me and try to find out how to help me, and there's different approaches when it comes to that. We try to categorize those approaches and train our model to be able to cater to all these different types. 

Ultimately, the therapist is trying to get to the core of your issue. And what we do on our platform is try to get there as quickly as possible using hints and cues when it comes to the language and the way someone communicates with our platform - that's what helps us to get there so quickly.

Rauva: That's fascinating. There’s clearly a huge opportunity here because therapists can be extremely cost-prohibitive. A regular session might cost €60 a week, and a lot of people who need it can't afford it, so Soulcare AI is such an incredible solution to offer to people who are in that position. On that note, how have your users responded to the app? Have you worked with people closely to get their feedback? Or what kind of feedback have you had?

Otto (Soulcare AI): Exactly. Great question. Obviously, internally, we’re testing all the time.

We’ve done a soft launch, which means we have a landing page people can log into and see what the skeleton of the platform looks like and we’ve given access to some people to try it out. But we're not at the full launch yet.

Rauva: Still at that exciting stage to actually get that user feedback! It's always so beneficial. I don't think you can ever do too much. Can I ask you as well about the unique opportunities and challenges that you've actually encountered by starting this business in Portugal. How's that gone for you?

Otto (Soulcare AI): Sure. I think Portugal definitely has more opportunities than challenges when it comes to starting up. That's why, as you mentioned, so many entrepreneurs are coming here. We have amazing accelerators, Startup Factory, Unicorn Factory, amongst others. We're the capital of innovation in Europe. We were last year awarded as that. We're also the green capital. The NHR, tax applications, anything you can think of. So yeah, there's a lot of reasons to come to Portugal. 

Portugal definitely really facilitates start-ups working here. I would say challenges include, probably as any business anywhere, but navigating the legal space, tax implications, etc. This is why we came to Rauva in the first place. And you guys have been doing an amazing job. If I would have had to deal with those things myself, I wouldn't be able to function in what I do right now. 

Rauva: That's really good to hear. I love to look at entrepreneurship as a vehicle to be able to help people and it's wonderful to hear about how Rauva can help you accomplish your mission by taking away a lot of the necessary hard work and complications. It’s why we do what we do.

Otto (Soulcare AI): Yeah. There's no other way to help a business, right? I could go to McKinsey or something and ask them, how do I build an AI? But that's not how you do it. So you guys definitely take away the headaches and make something that could be complicated, automated and streamlined. 

Rauva: If I could indulge that question for a minute, how has Rauva supported you with your business? Is there anything you’d like Rauva to support you with in the future? Are there any particular products that could help you more than we currently do?

Otto (Soulcare AI): So we came to Rauva for company creation. I didn’t really know what to do and you guys made the process really clear and easy from the beginning. I think even your representative, Ines, was fascinated by how fast it was! We sent out the application, It took less than three weeks and we were operational. Speed was very critical for us in that beginning stage because we had some investors wanting to invest, and they asked “where's your business?”, so that was, so far, the most crucial aspect for us.

What else? Definitely both me and my business partner being able to access one account and doing all these accounting things; making sure payments go to the right people at the right time without having to have the burden of a traditional bank, being able to streamline sending invoices, and so on. It just brings a lot of things together that otherwise you would have to pick here, pick there. We all know that traditional banks have processes that can be very manual and very time-consuming and so I'm very glad that we partnered with Rauva. 

And in the future, as we grow, it will be really important for certain people in our company to make decisions on their own, and make payments. I'm thinking about, for example, virtual cards as something we're going to indulge into for developers so they can pay things by themselves and it doesn't have to go through me or my business partner. That's very beneficial.

I know Rauva is growing and changing rapidly, and you guys come up with new things all the time, so I'm also excited to see what you guys come up with in the next months and I'll definitely be there and use it and test it! 

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Rauva:  Awesome. That’s good to hear. Well, there's certainly a lot of very, very exciting things in the pipeline. I think the great thing about Rauva is that so many of us in the company are entrepreneurs ourselves, so we understand the struggle and the challenges that entrepreneurs face. We know you don't want to waste your time by dealing with invoices or the admin. That’s why we exist and we do our best to help you that way. So if I could ask you now, what are your goals? What's your roadmap?

Otto (Soulcare AI): Short term, we want to do the full launch. Actually, backtracking a bit, Soulcare AI started as a suicide prevention company in the beginning. That was the first idea, and we really believe that our product can do that. People often just need a listening ear. Also, there's a loneliness epidemic going around, which is a key issue for the UN globally. These are the things we want to tackle.

We believe in human-to-human connection. We don't believe AI is going to replace a friend. That's not what we're trying to do. But we believe that there are certain times, it can be an hour, or in a certain situation where people can't speak to a friend or a family member, or don't want to. There's also a lot of people that don't want to speak to therapists or face the barriers you mentioned - money, etcetera. 

So, our goal is to create a world where everyone has real-time, 24-7 access to a listening ear that actually understands their problem and is compassionate and non-judgmental. And that will come with our launch. So I'm just waiting for that. 

Rauva:  I love it. It's absolutely fantastic. I think that so many times when people are struggling with mental health there's kind of a fog that comes over you, and you just can’t see what’s next? What can I possibly do to put one foot forward? AI is such a great tool when you've got that blank page feeling, so instead of having no idea how to move forward it can help you move in the right direction. I really think you guys are really onto something. It's fantastic.

Otto (Soulcare AI): I agree with you. That's exactly it. At the end of the day a therapist is just a very smart friend that has some psychological background and can give you ways for yourself to self-help, and I think that's possible with AI as well. That's the basic premise. 

Rauva:  Amazing. Otto, I've reached the end of my questions. Thank you so much for sharing all the information about Soulcare AI. It really is absolutely fantastic. If there's anything that we at Rauva can do to help the listeners along, please let us know. And it's really, really great, as I said, from one mission-driven company to another, for us to be able to support you, Soulcare AI, do the great work that you do. Hopefully we can continue to push you along and help you be successful!

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Written by Matt Deasy

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Rauva is partnered with Swan who will be providing all payment services to Rauva clients. Rauva does not have access to client funds. Funds are kept in accounts provided by Swan, held in BNP Paribas. Swan is an EMI, based in France, supervised, and regulated by ACPR/Banque de France. Swan is authorized to carry out such services in Portugal and registered with Banco de Portugal under the registration number 7893.
Rauva is a certified accounting firm, but is not a certified legal services provider. As such, Rauva does not provide legal services. Rauva acts as an intermediary who facilitates the introduction to our customers of legal services partners who are legally registered and certified in Portugal. A list of Rauva’s partners can be found here.