An Interview With Zencare Founder Yuri Tomikawa

In honor of mental illness awareness week, we had a sitdown with the 27-year-old founder of Zencare, Yuri Tomikawa.

                                                                                                         Courtesy of Yuri Tomikawa

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m the Founder of Zencare.co, a website that helps millennials find their ideal talk therapist. Students can check off-campus therapists’ availability, browse photos, and videos, and book a free initial call directly on the website to find a good fit!

What did you study in college?

International Relations, and East Asian Studies -- totally different from my current work! 

Why did you choose this profession?  

I was looking for a therapist myself and found the process to be a logistical nightmare. I called and left voice messages for dozens of therapists, didn’t hear back for days, and was told they weren't’t accepting new patients. It was also impossible to tell which therapist was going to be a good fit for me, or who was actually good at providing care from just an outdated headshot and a blurb of text. I wanted to make it easy for other people to find a therapist, and built Zencare as a result! 

What was the biggest struggle you faced when starting Zencare?

One of the challenges in starting Zencare was reconciling what prospective patients wanted and what therapists were used to. For example, while students seeking therapy loved being able to learn about the therapist through a video introduction, therapists tend to be camera-shy, and were not excited about having a video of themselves taken. Most therapists were also used to returning calls whenever they had a chunk of time to spare, which often ended up being 24 - 48 hours after the client first called; students, on the other hand, dreaded leaving voice messages and playing phone tag. A lot of what went into Zencare at the beginning was figuring out how to make the process user-friendly to both patients and therapists.

What do you believe to be your greatest achievement?

I wouldn’t call this my greatest achievement, but what gives me the most sense of reward in my work is whenever a user shares with us that they had an awesome experience using Zencare. It makes me so happy to know that someone has benefited from our product, and makes all the challenges of running a business totally worth it.

What one or two things do you consider to be the key(s) to your success?

Unyielding conviction: I truly believe in what we’re creating at Zencare. It’s a long overdue product and I’m excited to help hundreds of individuals connect with their ideal therapist. Resourcefulness: When it comes to my business, I’m really scrappy; for example, I learned coding on my own to build the Zencare platform, do most of the therapist photoshoots myself, and funded part of the business selling s’mores! We’ve come a long way being scrappy.

What do you find to be difficult about managing Zencare?

Because I started Zencare out of my personal experience, I feel personally dedicated to every user and therapist who uses our site. Part of what I’m working on is balancing my desire to make sure everyone has an excellent experience, while also not taking things too personally.

What advice would you give to college women who are passionate about mental health?

There is so much you can do within the mental health field, so I would encourage students to try as many internships, and student groups as possible to explore their interests. There are many careers within the mental health field (e.g. research, providing care, administration, health tech, writing), so trying out different roles while you’re in college can help narrow down your options. Other than that, my other advice would be to always take self care!

What are your favorite hobbies?

Yoga! I practice yoga almost daily.

Do you have any mentors or people that you admire?

Zencare’s Medical Advisor, Dr. Stephanie Hartselle, is one of the sharpest and most kind-hearted people I know and I admire her as a business owner, mother, and psychiatrist. Within my family, I admire my grandfathers for starting their own businesses post-World War II; my father for his relentless passion to internationalize Japan through real estate and student exchange programs; and my mother for her continuous zest for learning and her ability to not take herself too seriously. 

What do you do on your day off?

Yoga, catch up on some work, date brunch with my boyfriend, home-cooked dinner with friends.

What was the best advice you were ever given?

Trust your gut. 

What are your aspirations for Zencare?

So many people have shared how working with the therapist they found on Zencare has changed their lives. My aspiration is for as many people to experience that through our network of providers. 

What do you do on a typical day of work?

Every day is different, but it typically includes calls with therapists who are interested in joining our network, photoshoots with therapists, problem solving sessions with my team members, lots of emailing, making technical improvements to the website, and developing ways to reach more users.

Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or Zencare?

College can be super fun, and it can also be challenging at times. If you’re struggling in any way, know that you’re not alone! My hope for you is that you find support systems that can help you through the difficulties, whether through friends, family, a student group, or a therapist. Developing skills to address the challenges you face in college can benefit you for the rest of your life.