How Jaron Soh is building an accessible, affordable, and intersectional alternative to conventional therapy for LGBTQIA+ people.
Jaron Soh is our NEF+ Class of 2020 alumnus and the founder and CEO of Voda – the LGBTQIA+ mental wellness app.
Designed with leading LGBTQIA+ psychotherapists, Voda provides self-guided therapy programs with an LGBTQIA+ affirming angle, on topics such as coming out and internalised stigma, to anxiety and low moods.
First making an appearance at our March 2022 NEF+ pitch week, Voda’s private beta launch has since attracted over 280+ early adopters. It has also begun designing its programs with a team of 7 psychotherapists who identify across the spectrum of sexuality, gender and ethnicity, bringing together a combined 58 years of professional experience.
On building Voda
The LGBTQIA+ community faces numerous barriers in accessing mental health care.
According to Stonewall, one in eight LGBTQIA+ people have experienced unequal treatment from healthcare staff, with one in seven people avoiding treatment for fear of discrimination.LGBTQIA+ people are also twice as likely to struggle with their mental health, compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
“Growing up gay in a conservative environment, I struggled heavily with my sexuality in my younger years. At times I felt very alone, and didn’t understand why I felt the way I felt. I also didn’t understand how my emotional history was holding me back in my life and relationships.”
Jaron shares that while therapy had helped him to gain the self-awareness to show up better in his personal and professional life, it still is a resource that is out of reach for most.
“Private therapy is too expensive and the NHS is overwhelmed. Now, the cost-of-living crisis is only further fuelling anxiety and worry.”
Jaron’s experiences, coupled with the changing societal circumstances, inspired him and his team to build Voda as an accessible, affordable, and intersectional alternative to conventional therapy for LGBTQIA+ people.
Leveraging tech to drive Voda’s mission
Tech platforms can be leveraged to alleviate additional strain on public systems. Jaron notes that “for people in the queue for mild-to-moderate mental health support, it can also provide a more accessible and affordable alternative to therapy.”
The advent of platforms like Headspace, Balance and Calm show the rising demand for virtual, mental health support.
This, however, has revealed a gap that Jaron is now trying to address: “the existing mental wellness apps on the market are only catered to the heteronormative community. Being LGBTQIA+ brings with it unique challenges, which means that traditional forms of mental wellbeing are often less relevant to us.”
Voda provides self-guided programs designed by leading experts. Programs are derived from mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is one of the most effective, evidence-based treatments for anxiety and depression. Voda then combines this with their leading in-house LGBTQIA+ expertise to create personalized programs for the community.
“Voda tackles issues ranging from internalised homophobia, queer relationships, to substance use in the community, problems which most apps do not understand, let alone acknowledge. Our perspective is unique and intersectional.” Jaron points to the modern example of their series of programs on navigating dating apps, where programmes are separately designed to speak to the different practical realities of dating for gay/bi men, for trans folks, and for the sapphic community.
Since releasing their private beta 2 months ago, Voda has worked closely with 280+ early adopters to iterate and improve its platform, in a bid to safeguard users to ensure that their programs are safe for the wider public.
Building the Voda team
Prior to this, Jaron began his entrepreneurship whilst in university at the LSE, where he launched his first venture, Artisan & Fox, an e-commerce platform for artisans across developing regions. Afterwards, he co-founded Traktion, a venture-backed B2B hiring platform for freelancers.
He maintains, through these experiences, “the importance of an experienced and mission-led team.”
Voda’s therapist board consists of a team of 7 psychotherapists who identify across the spectrum of sexuality, gender and ethnicity, bringing together a combined 58 years of professional experience in designing Voda’s programs.
Alongside Jaron (who identifies as a cis gay Asian man), the founding team includes a Lead Psychotherapist, Chris Grant (who identifies as non-binary trans) and their Community Lead, Claire Wever (identifies as queer/bisexual). Collectively, their personal experiences and struggles with their queer identity and societal barriers have brought them to where they are today.
“At the end of the day, we’re all building the product we wish we had when we were younger. Every day this team inspires me and I’m grateful to be on this journey with them.”
Tapping into the NEF+ community
As a recent participant of the NEF+ programme (first to co-found another venture) and our March 2022 pitch week, Jaron’s leveraged the resources and network to refine his pitch for Voda in its earliest days.
“NEF+ has been a reliable sounding board for feedback, advice and peer support for the past 3 years. I’m still in regular contact with NEF+ fellows from my cohort, and also had the opportunity to meet and form friendships with alumni across the years.”
With Voda starting its fundraising efforts for its pre-seed round soon, Jaron is currently looking to connect with advisors, investors and founders with an interest in mental health and in uplifting the LGBTQIA+ community.
Learn more about Voda at (https://www.voda.co). The beta app is also now available for both iOS and Android devices.