Introducing Kim, the visionary behind Mendability, a company dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children with developmental disorders. Kim's journey began as the founder of a successful graphic design company, but a serendipitous turn of events led him to merge his passion for creating beautiful designs with his mother's meaningful work with people affected by neurological challenges. Now, Kim and his team at Mendability are focused on transforming the lives of children and seniors through innovative programs that stimulate the brain through sensorimotor enrichment.
In a recent interview with Chris, the editor of the "Articles" newsletter, Kim shared his inspiring story and the core values that drive Mendability. Kim explained how Mendability's program is designed to communicate with the brain through touch, smell, and other sensory systems, helping children develop cognitive abilities and enrich the overall quality of their lives. The joy Kim finds in witnessing the children experience happiness, comfort, and peace is what motivates him every day.
Chris: Hey, Kim. How are you? It's Chris.
Kim: Nice to meet you, Chris.
Chris: Pleasure to meet you too. How's your day going?
Kim: It's alright. Things are relatively calm at the moment.
Chris: That's good to hear. Let me give you a quick overview. I work as the editor of a newsletter called "Articles." It focuses on sharing entrepreneurial strategies and experience stories. We currently have around 10,000 entrepreneurs subscribed to our newsletter, and we constantly strive to provide them with fresh stories, strategies, and valuable knowledge. That's what our newsletter is all about. We'd love to feature you, and I've prepared some interview questions. Would you be open to answering them?
Kim: Yeah, sure. I'd be happy to.
Chris: Fantastic! To start off, could you share the story behind your company, including its history, mission, and core values?
Kim: Well, I began by establishing a graphic design company in the late 90s. It became successful within a few months. We had a well-defined sales process that generated profit. However, in the early 2000s, my mother was running a private clinic and needed assistance. So, I decided to lend a hand, thinking it would be temporary. I expected that once her clinic would be running smoothly, I would return to what I love most, which is creating beautiful designs for people. But during that time, I realized the significant impact my mother's work had on the world, compared to what I was doing. I saw an opportunity to merge my passion with this meaningful endeavor. I could still create beautiful things while helping children have happier lives and improving families' quality of life. That's when I decided to transform the private practice my mother started into the company we have today.
Chris: I understand. When you mention "beautiful things," what exactly do you mean by that? Just curious.
Kim: I was that kid in school who would pay partial attention to the teacher while constantly doodling and drawing. Drawing was always a part of me. In college, I pursued biochemistry with the ambition of finding a cure for cancer. That was my mission in life. However, I continued drawing on the side, and people started recognizing my talent. They would approach me, saying things like, "You draw well. Can you create a logo for me? Can you design this for me?"
Chris: So, that's why you ventured into creating a graphic design company.
Kim: Exactly. Eventually, I came to the realization that I found more joy in crafting beautiful things for people than in pursuing a cure for cancer. I wholeheartedly embraced this passion and decided to pursue formal education in the field. It turned out that I had a natural talent for it, and I could make a meaningful impact in my own way.
Chris: Got it. That's cool and it makes perfect sense.
Kim: Absolutely. When I talk about creating beautiful things, it encompasses a wide range of mediums. It could be designing captivating websites, eye-catching logos, appealing packaging, enticing brochures, delightful postcards, or impactful posters—anything that conveys a message and leaves a lasting impression. People want their brand or company to evoke specific emotions and sentiments in others. And I find great satisfaction and fulfillment in visually expressing those messages and creating that impact.
Chris: I understand. It's about creating visually compelling experiences that communicate and evoke emotions.
Kim: Exactly! That's precisely what I mean by creating beautiful things for people.
Chris: I see. Are you still actively involved in that work now?
Kim: Yes, I'm currently channeling my passion for creating beautiful designs through Mendability.
Kim: Additionally, I occasionally take on side projects for friends who know about my interests.
Chris: I see. That's cool. Moving on, you're currently working on Mendability. When you decided to seize this opportunity, were there any specific challenges you encountered?
Chris: Did you face any challenges with Mendability?
Kim: Yes, definitely. We encountered numerous challenges. Do you have a specific aspect you'd like to know about?
Chris: For instance, from a business perspective, such as finances, marketing, or finding the first customers. Entrepreneurs often face various challenges at different stages.
Kim: Finding that first customer can be a significant milestone for many entrepreneurs. When I joined the clinic initially, we had around twelve to twenty clients. It became apparent that the technology we were using to assist families had limitations in terms of scalability because only one person could handle it. While we didn't struggle to attract clients, with word-of-mouth spreading about our clinic in Calgary, we faced the constraint of how many people we could effectively serve with just one person.
So, we had two options: either train others to replicate the expertise of our program director, allowing us to help more individuals, or find a way to leverage technology to serve a larger number of people. I decided to explore the latter approach. We collaborated with an automation engineer and leveraged the emerging power of the Internet in the early 2000s. We developed an expert system that enabled individuals to interact with a computer online, receiving responsive guidance. This made the solution infinitely more replicable.
Once we solved that problem, the next challenge was how to inform people about this online opportunity.
Chris: How did you address that?
Kim: We were fortunate that Google had recently emerged as a prominent search engine. They introduced the concept of advertising companies to match search queries, which was a novel idea at the time. So, we hopped on board. In the early days of Google Ads, we were among the first hundred or thousand advertisers. Whenever someone searched for a solution for their child with autism, Down syndrome, or ADHD, we advertised our particular method.
If they showed interest, they could click on our ad and visit our website to learn more. However, the real challenge lay in finding the right target audience. Our product isn't a one-time purchase that instantly solves a problem, like buying a car. Our approach is more akin to going to the gym or following a diet plan. We provide correct principles, but it's up to individuals to implement them and achieve the desired outcomes. No one has really solved that problem yet. Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are probably the most successful weight loss companies because they combine the weight loss principle with social pressure. When you know you have to meet your group of friends next week, you don't want to be the only one who didn't lose weight, so you're motivated to keep working on it. They've done a great job with that. However, when it comes to exercise, no one has truly figured it out. People start exercising in the first two months of the year and then give up. Only a specific group of individuals are consistent with going to the gym or eating well.
The same applies to our product. It requires daily commitment for a few minutes to stimulate the brain and create changes in brain chemistry and connectivity. Our challenge lies in finding people who will consistently follow our instructions. We haven't cracked that yet. Just when Google and Facebook's technology matured enough to identify the consistent and financially capable individuals for our product, privacy concerns emerged. Suddenly, we couldn't know people's income or daily habits.
Now, we have to adopt the same approach as everyone else, casting a wide net with minimal targeting.
We are thinking that maybe we should present our product as something challenging so that most people would say, "I don't want this." Perhaps, then only those who are interested in a difficult task, because they've already tried various alternatives, would be attracted. We’re still working on that approach. I haven't found a solution for this yet, so I'm not a great example.
Chris: I have a question. I'm not fully aware of your business, and you certainly have more expertise, but have you considered targeting children? Since parents usually want the best for their kids, they might be more committed, and children have fewer options, right? Normally, they follow their parent's instructions. Or is your program already focused on kids?
Kim: Actually, we believe our clients are the parents. They are the ones who make the purchases, connect with us, receive coaching, interact with our software, and participate in activities with their child.
Chris: I see.
Kim: Additionally, targeting children would challenging because they often have developmental disabilities, and they may not be trusted by their caregivers to make decisions.
Chris: Yes, that's what I meant. Parents of young children, not parents of grown-ups.
Kim: Exactly. Previously, we could rely on Google's knowledge of who had children. Now, we have to infer that someone has kids based on their past purchases. Google can still track certain behaviors, such as visiting educational or school websites, which may indicate that someone has a child. We can instruct Google to target those individuals. So, you're right, there are still some targeting options available, but it's not as extensive as before.
Chris: I understand.
Kim: However, searching for gyms or schools doesn't necessarily indicate that someone is our potential client. If someone is searching for a school, it means they haven't found one yet. What we're looking for are individuals who have already found a gym and have been consistently going there for the past year. They are not actively seeking a gym.
Chris: I see.
Kim: So, we need to ask Google to identify those who regularly go to the gym. Unfortunately, they are not allowed to share that specific data. The gym knows how many people go to their facility, but no one else can know the identity of those individuals. Therefore, it's harder to find the specific people we are targeting in that manner.
Chris: I understand. I was browsing your website, and I must say it makes complete sense. I love what you have built. It's truly amazing. I appreciate your work.
Kim: Thank you.
Chris: It seems like you're really focusing on stimulating the child's brain and enhancing their perception of other senses, like smell, to retrain their cognitive abilities. Am I understanding it correctly?
Kim: Yes, our program has a strong emphasis on sensory aspects. We use the sensory systems as tools for communication with the brain. Our goal is not to directly engage with the senses themselves but rather to communicate with the brain through the senses. Children with developmental disorders often have unique ways of processing the world. For instance, the sense of touch is a complex sensory system that can easily be disrupted. Some children may have touch sensitivities to the point where touch is painful for them, while it remains pleasant for others.
The area of the brain we aim to target is responsible for regulating serotonin, a hormone that promotes a sense of control, calmness, and aids in learning and understanding the world. This hormone is closely linked to the sense of touch. If touch is not processed in a pleasurable manner, the brain lacks the necessary feedback mechanism to regulate serotonin effectively. Consequently, these children may experience constant anxiety and discomfort. To improve their brain function, we need to address their touch-processing abilities.
Therefore, our program includes methods to rehabilitate tactile processing, enabling us to subsequently support their brains through touch. As the sensory system is the brain's primary point of entry, our program may appear as a sensory-focused approach.
Chris: That's amazing, truly amazing. How many customers do you currently serve on a monthly basis?
Kim: We are currently transitioning our business model. Instead of working directly with parents, we are now focusing on schools, group homes, nursing homes, and addiction programs. Training parents consistently proved challenging, so we decided to explore other options. Our aim is to train teachers in schools and caregiving staff in nursing homes to assist children and seniors, respectively. By training professionals who are dedicated to healing and care, we can avoid the difficulties faced by overwhelmed parents who have their own responsibilities and anxieties. What’s more, if we can help children while they are at school, then we can still help the families, and they don’t even have to do the work!
We are in the process of migrating to a B2B approach, where we serve fewer individual clients but impact more children through the involvement of teachers and schools. I can provide you with the number of children impacted, but the number of clients we have refers to the teachers and schools themselves. I hope that clarifies it.
Chris: No, that's perfect. Thank you. What's the biggest risk you've taken as an entrepreneur?
Kim: The biggest risk I took as an entrepreneur, right? I would say it was when I left my profitable graphic design company to start working with this unconventional private clinic that focused on children with developmental disorders. However, at that time, I was young, just married, and didn't have any children yet, so it was easier for me to take risks in that situation.
Since then, I haven't really taken significant risks. I've been very cautious in mitigating risks.
Chris: One more question: What do you love most about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
Kim: It's the kids. Seeing the children's progress and hearing their stories. Every day, we witness stories of children who couldn't communicate, starting to speak, kids who were constantly miserable, crying, angry, and anxious, and now becoming happy and peaceful. It's not just about cognitive abilities or speech development, but it's about observing children who were once miserable, and uncomfortable, and seeing them reach a point where they are now comfortable and at peace. The impact is evident in the faces of their parents. When they first reach out to us, they are filled with tension and anxiety, seeking help for their child. But after just a few months, they express sentiments like "I have hope now" and "I can envision a future in ways I couldn't before." It's those deeply meaningful statements that keep me motivated and coming to the office.
Chris: Awesome. And one more question. Are there any upcoming projects related to the clinic that you're excited about?
Kim: Yes, we are excited about expanding our services to nursing homes. There are two reasons why we are excited about expanding our services to seniors with dementia. Firstly, we have always wanted to improve the quality of life for these individuals who have dedicated their lives to serving their families and the community. As they grow older, they often face challenges such as physical deterioration, emotional distress, and being marginalized. They are placed in hospitals and nursing homes, where they can become isolated and lose their connection to society. This loss of meaning and disconnection often leads to depression. We have long desired to find a way to help these individuals, but it wasn't until six months ago that we came across a clinical study published by someone who had implemented techniques similar to ours.
We connected with that person, and their approach is intriguing. It involves modifying the environment in a way that stimulates the brain simply by being in a room with these modifications. This is a stark contrast to the typical nursing home environment with beige walls, plastic floors, neon lights, and an absence of sensory stimulation. The food provided is often bland and pureed to accommodate various dietary restrictions, which further adds to the lack of interest. Our aim is not only to make the environment interesting but also stimulating so that seniors can reconnect with themselves and the people around them. We are incredibly enthusiastic about this development because it has the potential to benefit children as well, with families being able to implement similar modifications in their own homes. This would reduce the load of caregivers to administer, in a way, these enrichment protocols.
Although we are still working on designing these modules and have some challenges to overcome, this is an exciting project we are currently focusing on.
Chris: That's amazing, Kim. Truly amazing. It's great to hear about such innovative work. Just one last question: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs or those starting their entrepreneurial journey?
Kim: Find what brings you happiness and pursue that. There are countless opportunities to make money, but instead of simply choosing what looks good on paper, choose what ignites your passion. When you are genuinely happy with what you do, it will drive you to take risks, form emotional connections with investors and partners, and inspire others to engage with you. People are drawn to those who are passionate about their work. There is also a group of people who possess the ability to make money regardless of the venture they undertake. It may be worthwhile to seek out such individuals. However, the true essence of an entrepreneur lies in their heart and vision for the company. The CEO can be the money shark, but they too must have a heart. Without the drive for financial success, it becomes challenging to make a lasting impact or help others. Remember, you cannot assist anyone if you are not financially successful and no one knows you exist.
Chris: Absolutely, that's a valid point.
Kim: yes, it's important to have both aspects, both the heart and the money sense.
Chris: That's excellent advice. Entrepreneurs should be driven by their passion, heart, and purpose. However, it's also crucial to have someone with a business mindset, the "shark" or the money person, who can handle financial matters effectively. They complement each other because, without financial success, it becomes challenging to sustain and grow the venture.
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure meeting you.
Kim: Have a wonderful day. Goodbye.
In conclusion, Kim's entrepreneurial journey with Mendability showcases the value of passion. Through sensory-based approaches, Mendability aims to stimulate brain function and enhance cognitive abilities. The challenges faced along the way have shaped Kim's perspective, leading to a strategic shift towards a B2B model focused on training professionals. Kim's motivation lies in witnessing the progress and transformation of children's communication skills and overall well-being.