Puneet Manuja and Richa Singh's YourDOST opens up the conversation on mental health

By Shruti Venkatesh Forbes India Staff
Published: Feb 15, 2017

I love a good story, be it through advertisements, movies or an entrepreneur who dared to think differently. I believe in bringing in fresh perspectives -- to a corporate profile or a Facebook post -- like new wine in an even newer bottle. I graduated with a journalism degree from the Xavier Institute of Communications. My weekend rituals involve watching Bollywood movies and reading up on style trends.

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Puneet Manuja and Richa Singh | 29, 29

Co-founder & COO, co-founder & CEO, YourDOST
Category: NGOs & Social Entrepreneurship

A series of experiences of peers falling prey to depression—and not seeking help—got Richa Singh interested in the subject of mental health. The final tipping point was when “in college, a girl who stayed two rooms away from me committed suicide as she thought she wouldn’t get a job through college placements,” says Singh, 29, an IIT Guwahati graduate. After college, she started working in the Hyderabad office of investment firm DE Shaw & Co. It was here that she, along with colleague Puneet Manuja, 29, began researching mental health in earnest in 2009. Manuja, an MBA from IIM Bangalore, had himself been through depression when he couldn’t get a job despite being a gold medalist engineer at NIT Calicut.

“We spoke to thousands of people through focus group surveys and emails, and realised that a big chunk of the population is suffering from mental illness, but is afraid to speak about it,” says Singh. The duo started documenting the interviews on a blog in 2012. Although the blog was popular, they realised that if they wished to have an impact on a larger group, it had to be through an online platform where people could anonymously approach experts. Consequently, they launched a website, YourDOST, in December 2014. The platform has three layers—self-help (educational content to build awareness), peer-to-peer (stories of people who have been through difficult times) and one-to-one (speaking to experts). While text-based counselling is free, voice and video counselling costs Rs 400 and Rs 600 respectively. Today, YourDOST has 750-plus experts, conducts 1,200 sessions per day and has helped 9 lakh people. Based in Bengaluru, the startup currently employs 25 people.

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“In this category, the demand is high and there is a fair amount of stigma attached. So anonymity helps. Plus, both Richa and Puneet have personal reasons to do this, and therefore their drive and hunger are very high. They are by far the largest and the best team in this category,” says Mridul Arora, principal, SAIF Partners, which led YourDOST’s pre-series A round of $1.2 million. In just a couple of years, they’ve made a difference. And now, they’re looking ahead. “In a country with 1.2 billion people, where stress is a lifestyle, we have not even touched the tip of the iceberg,” says Singh.

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(This article is excerpted from the Forbes India 17 February, 2017 issue. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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