About: Chase Merlin is Co-founder and COO at Spera Health. He is also an advisor at Spotwise.
Asif: Tell us about your educational background and your current venture?
Chase: Spera Health is a digital health startup that helps drug and alcohol treatment centers maintain lasting relationships with patients, alumni, and their family members through supportive technology. The technology, which includes a mobile social support app for patients, a communication and analytics dashboard for staff, was developed in partnership with an industry leading national treatment organization. Our social support network provides a dedicated, safe space where patients, staff, and family can keep in touch with other and share tips, encouragement, and reach out for help in critical moments. I studied cognitive science at the University Pennsylvania and worked as a web developer at two healthcare companies before founding Spera.
Asif: How did you get started in Spera Health? Tell us about your journey?
Chase: My family and I have had a long history with behavioral health, and I had some behavioral challenges as a kid that led me into therapy at a very young age. I also watched as several family members went through struggles with various issues with depression, anxiety, and addiction. Through all of this personal experience, I saw a number of successes and setbacks, and I could see first hand how difficult it was to manage these conditions, even for very motivated and successful people. When I got to college I was able to learn a lot more about behavioral psychology and how to build digital products, partially by working for a digital health startup, and it seemed like very few people were utilizing technology in the mental health space. After a brief stint working on another startup, my co-founder and I founded Spera Health with the mission to help people recover from depression, anxiety, and addiction. I feel like few things could be more important that helping people flourish and find happiness, and I’m thrilled to be able to work on this every day.
Asif: Many people believe that Artificial Intelligence could bring the apocalypse, what are your views?
Chase: The future of AI is a fascinating topic. We are currently seeing a wave of innovation of machine learning applied to virtually every vertical, and the next 10-20 years is going to be an incredible time in AI development, where AI will be immensely useful throughout our lives. That said, I do believe that in the long run AI presents a fundamental risk to our society. It is often said that people tend to over-estimate the effects of new technology in the short run but under-estimate it in the long run, and I believe this applies well here. If not carefully regulated, AI will at some point far surpass the capabilities of human intelligence to the point where it is even difficult to comprehend. Initiatives like OpenAI are vital and I believe governments and companies should emphasize AI safety.
Asif: What advice would you give startups when starting their journey
Chase: Some of the most foundational lessons for early stage startups are to start with a problem you are passionate about, to be rigorous in validating that your proposed problem is real and that your customer is already trying to solve it, and to be very selective and deliberate in forming the founding team. Other important lessons include: focusing exclusively on talking to users or working on product and blocking out the noise (ex: networking, pitch competitions, detailed financial models, etc.) until you have an early group of customers who love what you have built, building small scope MVPs and launching quickly, and keeping expenses as low as possible early on.
Asif: What books have influenced your thoughts the most?
Chase: The Lean Startup and various related works including Running Lean and Lean Analytics dramatically changed how I thought about running a business in iterative cycles of testing and learning. The other book I would recommend to anyone is Charlie’s Almanack. I am a huge fan of Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett’s longtime partner) and that book is a goldmine of advice for rational thinking and how to live a good life.
Asif: What are your views about MarkTechPost?
Chase: To me, MarkTechPost provides broad coverage of innovative technologies in the digital health market. I’m often time crunched but found the summaries of other health-tech spaces (AI, Blockchain, IoT, etc.) helpful for generating ideas in my own business and for general inspiration. I love the futuristic bend of the content as well.