Interview with Jana Dowling, CEO and founder of mental fitness app MyArkeo

Find out how a depressive episode and subsequent diagnosis with bipolar disorder led Jana Dowling to launch mental fitness app MyArkeo.

What’s your career background? 

I have had a varied career and started some distance away from the ‘tech for good’ area I am now working in. I started working in television as a production coordinator and then moved into fashion publishing. From there, I had a brief period in performing, acting and stand-up comedy and then went back into TV production. 

The hours of intense work followed by rest suited me but I was burning out and it was about to catch up with me. I only truly took a step back and planned what I wanted to do with my career and future after my mental health crisis. I realised what was important to me was as simple as helping people and leaving a change in the world for good (although one of my mentors is still trying to convince me to do an Edinburgh comedy set on my recent experiences)!

Where did the idea for MyArkeo come from?

I had a major life event where I had severe a depressive episode and spent five weeks under 24-hour watch as a high-risk suicide patient. I was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on a course of medication. When I was coming out of this episode, I wasn’t well enough to work and so took on my recovery like a job and started to track everything I was doing to understand how the choices I was making were affecting my decisions. 

I found the data helpful to my recovery and others found it helpful too so I started running courses and teaching my recovery process so others could benefit from it. I met some amazing mentors who encouraged me to develop an app to capture the mental fitness tracking and realise the dream of improving more people’s mental fitness and so MyArkeo was born.

How did you move from idea to actual business? 

I didn’t have a tech background or degree in business and so had to start from the ground up to build my app, but I had an idea I believed in. I believe it’s not just about having a formal education in tech but bringing your own skills and insights with you, realising your skill limitations and utilising mentors to help in any areas you may need.

I have been lucky to work with the help of amazing mentors such as Matt Phelan and this has been invaluable in my journey. Someone who believes in what you are trying to achieve and giving their precious time to you gives you confidence in your vision in moments of doubt.

What’s your USP? 

The fundamental principal of the app is to track your mental fitness just like you would your mental fitness. It’s not just an app for people who are struggling with their mental health but for everyone. 

Peak mental fitness can not only improve our quality of life but can also help us to function more effectively in all aspects of life. We don’t think twice about reaching for Instagram or checking our fitness tracker, they’re an integral part of many people’s lives, and I’m aiming to make MyArkeo just as indispensable for anyone who cares about managing their emotional wellbeing. 

I want to make it common practice for us all to know what is going on in our minds and understand our own patterns and behaviours to become as mentally fit as possible.  

Mental fitness is the same as physical fitness, but for your brain. It is something we all have – it goes up and down in all of us regardless of whether we have a mental health diagnosis or not and it is affected by lifestyle choices, life experiences and world events. The element we have the most control over is our lifestyle. 

MyArkeo helps us to recognise these patterns of behaviour and empower people to change by giving them the tools for mental strength, flexibility and stamina.  

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome? 

The biggest obstacles have been the dual challenges of trying to start a business during a global pandemic and the issues I faced when my initial funding fell through. 

I secured my seed investment and went on to the challenging process of raising and raised £1M with a Venture Capital. Everything was organised and I pushed forward into the app build. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and they were not able to deliver on the signed investment and I had to pivot to continue development and the process took much longer that I initially anticipated. 

When funding fell through, I had unpaid invoices and the prospect of having to give up on my goal. But I stepped up to the challenge and out of that tough time I took on roles at Sweatcoin, to develop charity partnerships, and Velocitii digital, to build out an innovation lab. My experiences there have taught me a huge amount that I have used in developing my app to market and grow the business.

And your proudest moment so far?

My proudest moment so far is seeing the app in the App Store. I have had a long journey to develop the app and secure funding to bring it to market and it makes me so proud to see how far I have come and realise that I am now an experienced woman in the tech field.

Why is work so important to you? 

Work is important to me because it’s an outlet for creativity, for pushing myself to be the person I want to be. I wouldn’t have the chance to meet the people I’ve met, read the books I’ve read and learn what I have without the need to do it for work. It’s a great way to keep me disciplined and I think it really helps with managing my mental health. I love working, I’ve always been a grafter and I think I always will.

When I was trying to start working again following my mental health crisis and finding it tough, I realised it was a common issue facing all people who have struggled with mental health problems. I was given an opportunity by a friend to work as a PA – she was kind and considerate and supportive while I was getting back to things, that’s not an opportunity everyone gets. So I decided to try and help others on the same journey as me.

I set up a Social Enterprise called the 888 collective the sole focus on helping people with mental health issues get back to work. I bought a second-hand panini maker and found a free shed space in East London to sell tea and toasties out of. I employed anyone who came to me with mental health issues that wanted to work, paid them for their time and taught them the MyArkeo tracking system.

Giving people the chance to work and show you what they can do is really important. Especially when you’re recovering from or dealing with mental health issues. The sense of self achievement and empowerment is and was for me a key part of my recovery journey. 

Who inspires you? 

It would be easy to throw out big entrepreneur names here, but the truth is the most inspiring people I know are the people around me; work colleagues, friends and family, people I’ve worked with through the 888 Collective. When I pay close attention to how they manage and deal with different situations I learn so much from them.

Perspective is really important to me being an entrepreneur and building a business can be all-consuming, but it’s the people closest to me that help to keep me on track and make sure that I enjoy my life and I feel loved and secure.

Watching people I know achieving goals, anything from teaching a puppy new tricks, getting out of bed before 10am when suffering from depression to running an international tech company is inspiring. I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.

Find out more about MyArkeo.