Hannah Hardy-Jones

How Postpartum Bi-Polar Disorder Inspired Hannah Hardy-Jones To Build A Life-Changing Startup

TL.DR

• Kite is a well-being app that helps post-natal Mums inspired by Hannah’s post- partum mental health journey.
• Hannah almost lost everything when the app developers for Kite went into liquidation the day Kite was supposed to launch.
• Kite pivoted to commercial clients when they found marketing their consumer app challenging and now works with some of the largest national bodies in the UK.
• All this and Kite is still only a team of three (plus sales partners) due to their unique business model.
• Hannah keeps going viral. She has a knack for driving attention to the causes important to her.

The Life Experience That Inspired Kite

Hannah Hardy-Jones was a carefree and confident 18-year-old fascinated by people when she began her studies in psychology.

But after realising how emotionally challenging a psychologist’s work could be, she decided a career in human resources was a better way to connect with her love of people.

So she completed a post-grad diploma in HR and set her sights on becoming the chief people officer of Air New Zealand. ‘I planned out what I needed to do each year to get to that point, and nothing in my mind was going to change that. I even had an Air NZ plane cut out on my vision board!.’

That was until Hannah, and her partner decided to start a family. I guess I went into it naively; I only planned on having 3 to 4 months off work because I needed to get back to my career.

But often, life doesn’t care about your plans. Post-pregnancy, Hannah was floating on cloud nine, unaware she was experiencing a manic episode.

Highs aren’t something you look out for; you normally look for the lows. I had no idea this was even something that could happen, and it completely rocked our world. I thought I was immune to that sorta thing.

After three months of being acutely unwell, Hannah was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder due to childbirth. Not to be confused with post-natal depression – this isn’t a depressive episode; it’s a mental health disorder that requires medication and stays with you for the rest of your life.

When Hannah finally found her feet again and returned to her HR career – she discovered her passion for it was gone.

Her vision of becoming chief people officer for Air New Zealand transformed into something else.’ Because of what I’ve been through, I wanted to use that experience to help people and change lives – I didn’t feel HR was the best way to do that. So I made the decision to start Kite.

Building An App With No Technical Experience

Hannah’s idea for Kite was to provide mental health & well-being support to mothers.

During her post-pregnancy experience, Hannah felt alone. So making Mums’ feel connected and genuinely cared for on a journey together‘ was incredibly important.

Initially, she was going to host workshops and online training sessions. But realised she needed to go digital to create impact at the scale she wanted.

Her idea for online training morphed into an App that delivered inspiring and helpful daily activities. Hannah wanted to make it beautiful and heartful – not just another generic techie app that bombards you with notifications.

You need technical know-how to get an App like this off the ground, so Hannah sought the help of a development agency. She pitched numerous companies from NZ and abroad. Until a company called Appster showed a lot of interest. Appster was A $150 million development company from Melbourne run by two guys in their early 20’s.

They were excited by Hannah’s vision and even told her she would be the next Mark Zuckerberg. After exchanging pleasantries in a whirlwind week, Appster flew Hannah to Melbourne, and they nutted out the details of a development deal while frequenting fancy cafes and restaurants.

Hannah admits she was a little gullible back then and lapped up the praise while missing obvious red flags.

Appster lacked the pragmatism you’d typically expect from developer types. ‘They weren’t sitting me down and going, okay, you’re going to have some issues here. You might need to think about this, this and this.

After many missed deadlines and budget blowouts, Appster ended up liquidating the day before Kite was supposed to launch.

Literally, everything stopped. We didn’t even have the code at this point, and it cost far more than it should have – it was a complete disaster. Looking back on it, I just needed to talk to some more people. Like I was a mum working from my kitchen table, I didn’t have those connections to be able to go; what did you do? How did you do it?

Launching Kite And Getting Their First Users

If Kite was going to succeed, Hannah needed to generate her app a lot of attention, and she decided publicity was the best way to do that. So she paid a publicist, a cringeworthy amount, to write up a heartfelt story and send it out to a few people.

Within weeks Hannah was featured in national newspapers and TV. She even landed a spot as an in-studio guest on the project, New Zealand’s most-watched current affairs show. ‘We had soo much media coverage it was amazing’.

The project appearance alone drove 3,000 app downloads.

The reason that we got so much PR wasn’t that I was going around saying, I’ve created this app for Mums. I openly shared my story about becoming bipolar, triggered by childbirth. It suddenly became this thing that everyone was talking about. I became the bipolar lady who created an app.

Beyond the PR circus, Hannah spent many hours connecting with Mums on Instagram. She found mumfluencers willing to trial Kite, many of whom talked about it on their platforms.

She also connected with Mum-journalists who loved her story and covered Kite in their publications. I connected with a woman in the UK who was a writer for Forbes. She wrote an entire article about me and other women using mental health as inspiration for entrepreneurship.

On top of that, Hannah made several appearances on podcasts.

Pivoting Kite To A Commercial Product

After the initial excitement from Hannah’s PR blitz, Kite downloads slowed. With no marketing budget left, Hannah considered returning to corporate work.

That thought didn’t sit well with her, though. ‘I knew I could do this, and the thought of going back to an HR role triggered something inside me; on a hunch, I started talking to ex-colleagues and other industry people about staff wellbeing programs.

She realised nothing like Kite existed; everything else was generic and missing the mark. ‘I could see their eyes light up when I started talking about Kite‘.

Hannah started pondering aloud on social media about a corporate version of Kite.

An Instagram post caught the attention of a woman working for a large cancer care provider, who put Hannah in contact with people from her health and wellbeing team.

She didn’t know it then, but they were the largest privately owned cancer care provider in the southern hemisphere. Hannah pitched him using Kite for Mums. ‘I’ve got this mom app; you can use that‘, which was enough proof for them to become Kite’s first corporate client.

‘That was a huge confidence boost. It just happened from that little connection on Instagram, and they’re still with us.’

Hannah has continued sharing her story on social media, and those innocent first connections keep adding up to big wins.

They’ve even built a solution for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the industry body in the UK that looks after 50,000 vets and 19,000 veterinary students.

Hannah said this was the most pivotal moment for Kite to date. ‘Because of their scale, who they are, and their influence, that was the moment I felt like we’ve got something people really want, and it’s not just a consumer thing. Many clients still have no idea how small we are. They talk about us being this sort of like global force, and it’s like, Oh yeah, we’re actually just a team of 3 sitting here in New Zealand.’

Because Kite can re-skin their app and create custom content for any challenge an organisation and its people face. They’re more flexible than other industry mainstays like Calm and Headspace. Which helps them win these large contracts.

Building A Company And A Content Machine

You were probably surprised to learn that Kite is just a team of three.

Hannah waited till she could comfortably cover her bills before making her first hire. ‘I had too much work; I would have carried on for another year doing that if I had to. But I would have been in over my head if we took on another client. So it was time.’

Hannah met her first hire a year earlier at her kid’s school. During general chit-chat with other Mums, she mentioned Kite to Sarah, who showed just as much passion for it as her. She knew then she would hire her as soon as possible.

Sarah started as Hannah’s right-hand lady for 12 hours per week, doing anything and everything. She has slowly progressed to almost full-time hours as mainly a Customer Sucess Lead.

It was another two years before Hannah added to her team, bringing on Cleo as head of growth. On a whim, after hearing about Cleo through her network, she reached out and asked to meet up. They gelled, and even though Hannah wasn’t looking for a head of growth at the time, she offered her the role.

According to Hannah, these people ‘sort of fall out of the sky – They just pop up, and I’m like, ‘ Oh my god, I need you.

Kite can stay small because they contract out their content creation. ‘We work with lots of awesome experts. We’ll go; who’s the best person to write about, say, food and mood connection? Okay, well, it’s Bronwyn Hudson. We get these people to write a kite each day, and it’s really short. For example, a five-day kite might take half an hour if they know that topic.

The content creators pick up specialist referral work that goes beyond the app, such as counselling and life coaching. The better the kites perform, the more off-platform work they get.

‘So that works awesomely because It doesn’t cost us anything. We get credibility from having these amazing people write our kites, and they’re all posting on their LinkedIn about how cool it was to be part of this project.’

As for Hannah, she is still in the thick of everything at Kite. She spots opportunities, coordinates projects, and generates a lot of awareness on her social media as their defacto marketing top of funnel.

Hannah’s approach to entrepreneurship is very intuitive. She has a talent for spotting the right opportunities for Kite. Which is where she brings the most value.

There are thousands of opportunities in the mental health space, and that’s one of my biggest weaknesses. There are so many amazing things that we can do. A lot of it comes down to people.

For example, eating disorders had been on my mind, as many people I know have struggled with them.

And I came across a woman, Genevieve Mora, who’s amazing in the eating disorders space. And so I was like, I’ll have a chat with her and see what happens.

So I wouldn’t have gone down that path unless I’d had that connection with her. And I could see in her eyes that this is really going to save people’s lives. As soon as I see that kind of chemistry, I almost know it will work.

Going Viral On Social Media

Hannah’s personal profile is on the same upward trajectory as Kite’s. She has a knack for knowing how to get our attention.

Appearing on national television multiple times is impressive. But the reach from those TV appearances doesn’t touch the numbers she’s pulling on LinkedIn.

A few months back, one of her viral posts got 2.5 million views, even though she had less than 2,000 connections.

I honestly don’t know the formula because I literally sit down at my desk, and it just comes to me. [for the most recent viral post] I felt like I needed to say sorry for being so judgmental; I wrote that on the back of a piece of paper, then posted it – it just happened.

My phone didn’t stop for days after that; it was like another world. Connection requests, podcast interviews, and soo much was happening. Not everything was positive; There was some nasty stuff in there too.

Being authentic seems to be the trick as we connect with the people and ideas we can relate to.

Handling The Trials and Tribulations Of Entrepreneurship

Anything worth doing is tough, and tough is the price you pay for a-typical outcomes. The almost failed app launch mentioned earlier is just one of many ups and downs Hannah has faced while regularly putting in 12-hour days, burning the midnight oil.

Now she’s trying to pull on the reigns a little and warned against the martyr-dom style entrepreneurship that hustle culture sells us.

Anyone can start at two or three in the morning if they really want, but let’s be strong and go; I want to go to bed at nine and get up at six. That’s going to be way better for your decision-making and output than just flogging yourself.

And when the inevitable challenging moments come that a healthy home-cooked meal and a good night of sleep can’t solve. Hannah goes to her toolkit.

When times are tough, I look down at my tool belt, and instead of seeing nothing – which is what most of us see. I’ve got things ready to go.

Hannah has built her toolkit by watching how others deal with similar situations and giving it a go herself. For example, lately, she’s picked up a tool called dark showers. Which is when you shower with the lights off.

After she tries techniques like dark showers, she asks herself whether she liked it or not and did it help. If it does, then she adds it to her belt.

So next time you come home from work, and you’re like, I feel so stressed. What do I do? You look down at your tool kit, and you’re like, Oh yeah, maybe I’ll try that, you know?

She, like many others, has also struggled with imposter syndrome and uses this idea called ‘not looking over the fence’ to help. ‘Just focus on what your garden needs; if your neighbours have roses, does that actually mean anything to you?

And Hannah wrapped up the conversation with some parting words for her younger self.

For a long time, I didn’t really listen to other people’s advice. I was convinced that my experience and vision were so right; I just didn’t hear it. Like I remember once somebody saying to me, like, don’t have a free trial that doesn’t roll over. I should have listened to that.

I wish I could go back and say [to my younger self] listen to people like you. I would say you don’t know anything, and the only way you’re going to know is by talking to people and asking for advice.

If you want to follow Kite’s journey, check them out on Instagram or connect with Hannah on Linkedin.

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