April 12, 2023

#111 Stigma: Whose Business Is It Anyway?

#111 Stigma: Whose Business Is It Anyway?

Founder Ariana Vargas wants to destigmatize talking about mental health. So she built a social app. No wait, now it’s a Slack app for the workplace? This founder is willing to do whatever it takes to secure investment - maybe too willing. Will Ariana build the business she wants, or the one investors want? 


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Neal Sales Griffin: welcome to the Pitch show, day 2, pitch 4

Being a first time founder is tricky.


Investors want you to be flexible, willing to take their feedback. But not SO flexible that you follow their vision instead of your own. 


Today’s founder, Ariana Vargas, is trying to figure out where to draw that line.


When Lisa and I first met Ariana, she had built a social mental health app. It allowed strangers to support each other by sending hopeful video messages. 


However, when Ariana showed up in The Pitch Room, she was in the middle of Techstars. And the vision for her company had already changed.


So the app we were excited about… was nowhere to be found. Is Ariana’s early pivot the kind of flexibility investors are looking for - or is it a sign that she’ll just change her business for anyone?


I’m Josh Muccio, welcome to The Pitch. Where real entrepreneurs, pitch to real investors, for real money.

Neal Sales Griffin: I’m Neal Sales Griffin, Managing Director here at Techstars Chicago, Welcome to Chicago

Charles Hudson: I’m Charles Hudson, Managing Partner, Precursor Ventures

Elizabeth Yin: I’m Elizabeth Yin, and I’m a General Partner at Hustle Fund

Jillian Manus: I’m Jillian Manus, Managing Partner of Structure Capital

Mac Conwell: I’m McKeever Conwell the 2nd but most people call me Mac and if you follow me on Twitter it’s Mac the VC

The pitch for Stigma is coming up after this. 




The information provided on this show is not intended to be investment advice and should not be relied upon as such. The investors on today’s episode are providing their opinions based on their own assessment of the business presented. Those opinions should not be considered professional investment advice.

Jillian: Hi. //

Ariana: Nice to meet everyone.

Charles: Likewise.

Neal: Good to see you.

Ariana: Can I start whenever?

Jillian: Go for it.

Ariana: All right. Talking about your mental health is hard. Talking about your mental health at work is harder. Talking about your mental health to five almost total strangers on a pitch competition show [laughter] is what you do when you know you have an idea that can change the world. // My name is Ariana Vargas, I am the founder of Stigma, and I was born in Costa Rica to a father with schizophrenia. When I would tell people this as a young person, they would meet me with shock or cruelty. And it's not because people are inherently unkind; it's because people are afraid of what they don't understand. // So I decided to change that. At Stigma, we use storytelling to change the way people think and talk about mental health. // Last year, US employers saw a 225 billion dollar loss in productivity as a result of poor employee mental health. Their response was more - // more checks for more apps and more benefits. // But the big problem is that no one is using them.  // At Stigma, we provide companies with the content and the stories that destigmatize talking about mental health in the workplace, that open people up emotionally, // and then match them with the benefits and services that their companies already pay for. // and we're raising a million dollars to bring this unique style of storytelling to the workplace. //  

Elizabeth: Can you show us a demo?

Charles: Yeah. Do you have a demo? 

Ariana: Yeah. I have a couple of videos I can show you. // What kind of story would you like? Would you like one about miscarriage, addiction -

Mac: Doesn't matter. Just pick one.

Ariana: - racism.

Elizabeth: Anything. //

Mac: Okay.

Ariana: So I want you to imagine that you're in Slack and you are getting ready for your next meeting and you're talking to people about what has to get done for next week's board meeting and you get an alert from your Stigma app that says, hey, there's a new story, and this one's about addiction. //

[video plays] Hi, I'm Erico. I am 31, I'm a queer person, and I suffer from substance addiction issues and depression. A lot of the wellness of my life, all pertains to the people, places and things that I surround myself with. And for the longest time, I surrounded myself with a lot of friends who, at the time I thought were friends, but, you know, when I became a sober person and I stopped drinking and drugging, I really learned what it meant to be a friend and I learned - I learned who my real friends were. The beautiful thing is that when I started becoming a better person, I started attracting better people into my life and these people taught me how to love myself, because they loved me until I did. // And I know that the more I stay connected with people, the healthier my life's gonna be. //

Jillian: Was that an actor?

Ariana: No.

Jillian: Okay. Who wrote that script? //

Ariana: That was just his responses to interview questions on a set.

Jillian: Got it. //

Ariana: After you watch that video, you'll be asked, did this - watching this story increase your compassion for this lived experience? // The next thing after the question about compassion is pointing you directly to a resource in your own employee benefits package that speaks to exactly that. Did you know that you have substance abuse resources as part of your employee assistance program? One of the bigger problems with the low utilization of EAPs is that HR people aren't typically marketers. They don't know how to do it that well, no one knows how to talk about mental health that easily, and they don't have a budget for creating newsletters and content around these things. //

EAPs, by the way, are employee assistance programs - free programs that many employers offer. Think, short term counseling for things like grief or substance abuse.

Charles: I was gonna say, like my impression is that EAPs have historically been underutilized because most people don't want to share the underlying issue they're dealing with with HR out of fear of retribution or consequences, whereas some of these third party services, it gives you this layer in between. Like, hey, I have a company provided therapist, but the company doesn't know what issue I'm dealing with. How do you think about where this product sits in that landscape?

Ariana: I think we're excellent in that regard because we don't require any of you to submit information. // So what it really is is an employee engagement tool that reminds people that we've paid for these things already that exist. And so the idea there is // you would get a report on, hey, you usually get ten calls to your EAP; once you launched Stigma, you got a hundred. //

Mac: What's the business model here? How do you make money?//

Ariana: So the first stage will be in either licensing content. So we have one customer so far that is TXI in Chicago. They're paying to license content because they want stories around disability. // They do town halls and they do quarterly stories, and they said, we just want your stories. So you can think of that as a typical licensing structure, like a Getty Images. People pay you to get access to this content and they don't have to spend $25,000 for a day of production to get one story that they can't use over and over. They can access a content library.

Jillian: So how much are they paying?

Ariana: They're paying $600 per individual story and then we also have shorts. We have two short films, both of which have been official film festival selections in four festivals. // There's also potential distribution for larger media plays. //

Jillian: Okay. I invest a lot in this space, and I know that there are a lot of companies like Ginger and Hurdle and a number of other ones that have this content. // Just Kaiser, even the health care system, has a whole library of these. Exactly looking like this.// Why is yours so special?

Ariana: I love the question. I'd like to give an example.

Jillian: Okay.

Ariana: Spanx already existed, cos there were control-top pantyhose. // I promise you, and this is my opinion I'm gonna challenge, no one is making what we're making. They're making - 

Jillian: That's not true. I'm gonna say that's not true. I'm gonna push back on you. And I hate to be like that, but I've seen a hundred of these.  // Everybody has these. // Even the information in this video was not unique. There was not one aha moment in there.  // This is something nice to have, but I don't see this as necessary to have.

Mac:  So Imma gonna disagree with you there, Jillian.

Jillian: Okay.

Mac: And Imma gonna disagree because, yes, similar content exists. But not in the package that she's providing. Cos like, having, you know, having just been a regular employee at a lot of these large corporates that have all these benefits, you learn about them the day you get in, they do the onboarding, and then you get to your job and you forget about them. You don't know - you forget they exist. Until you have a serious problem. // Nobody's helping employees really get the true benefit out of their employee benefits. // That's actually unique. //

Jillian: That's not true. There are a lot of companies that are doing this. There are a lot of them who generate these videos internally, and there are a lot of them who have -

Mac: But they're not -

Jillian: - contracts with mental health platforms -

Mac: - employees where they are. Like she's talking about a Slack app.

Elizabeth: Like in Slack, yeah.

Mac: Like, nobody - nobody's even -

Jillian: But that's not a company. That's a feature. Like, that company could put it into Slack. They could put all their videos into Slack. They can go to Ginger, they can go to Prudential, they can go to any of the partnerships that they have // and say, we'd like to put this into a Slack.

Mac: But here's the best example I can give you. The iPod saved Apple. The iPod was nothing but a crappy MP3 player, and there were tons of other MP3 players people could've bought. And somebody would've been like, why would I buy the more expensive crappier MP3 player when there's a wall of better ones I could go to? And you know what? They put it in a package and met people in the place where they wanted that over this. I think that's what she's building. 

Jillian: You gonna invest in this?

Mac: I'm in.//

Mac: I'm in for 50k.

Jillian: Okay.

Ariana: Thank you, Mac, I appreciate it.

Well.. that was fast… Mac is in on Stigma. 

Will he bring the other investors in with him… or will they side with Jillian. That’s after the break.


Welcome back. Mac just committed $50k to invest in Ariana’s EAP-pushing Slack app. But it happened pretty fast – so the rest of the investors have a few more questions. Here’s Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Can we go back to um the monetization? I think my concern is around, you know, how do you convert these pilots into contracts? Like, what data do you need to show in order for them to be convinced to pay for this? // Is there something you can point to that suggests that watching videos like these leads you to // basically solving a problem such that it costs the employer less?

Ariana: I wish I could tell you yes, but the answer is no. Because // we're not established enough. We're still really early stage, so I don't know. Like, I have to work - these are initial pilots. // We know that therapists all across the world point to media assets, stories, books, films, TV, blog posts, to help people better understand feel less alone in the experience they're navigating. But no one has tried to apply that in the, like, employee workplace setting, // and so what I'm working to understand is what is the perfect way to position this and what are those factors that I can point to and say, this is what we're going to be able to do for you. // 

Elizabeth: Ariana, I really love the mission that you have here and I think that you're the right person to do this. // I think for me the part that I'm struggling to get conviction on is, you know, employers, when they consider the things they purchase, // it's a tough sell unless there's some strong ROI. And I hear you that there could be some strong ROI, but it feels like there are a few hoops that, you know, one needs to jump through to get that conviction that some people watching certain videos will reduce health care costs in this way. And I feel like I'm not quite there. So for that reason, I’m out.

Ariana: Thank you.

Charles: Is there any other - given that you're - from what I can hear, it sounds like you're going to be a basically B2B content production company, sort of at scale. // I think about, like, you can either build your own audience, or you can sort of basically license this content into people who already have relationships and audience and use - and let them figure out how to enhance it and have them pay you a licensing fee. That to me just seems like a easier business model than trying to spin this up as something you sell directly. Is that an option? 

Ariana: Yes. // There are opportunities with a lot of people in this space to license the content. And to the question of scale, generative AI is an exciting field. // We have a lot of stories that people have recorded. And we have the questions that were asked of them when they did an interview. And I think those pieces will enable us to say to people, if you want an offer of hope and it can't be a human offer from someone just like you right now, we're gonna use generative AI to offer you support while you wait for, you know, a real person. But you can also, I mean, there are interesting things being done with AI actors and things that you can do where you say, maybe an employee wants to share their story but they don't want people to know it's them, and so can they submit in an anonymized way, we can use an AI actor and people understand, this is a real person but they wanted that anonymity and it's not like unsolved mystery style of 1992. 

Elizabeth: So that's really interesting, that part. //

Charles: I think Techstars is like the perfect place for you to be right now. // I think I'm out for now. For one really specific reason: we've done // a lot in mental health. And we've also a ton in the employer benefits channel. And the one thing I've tried to avoid like the plague is EAP. Just because of the fraught relation - I think that's a very difficult dynamic to change, because I think it comes from a // place of mistrust. And maybe misunderstandings. I won't pass judgment on whether that mistrust is valid or not. But I just want to acknowledge it exists. And that's been the one area I've just said, that seems - that seems hard.

Ariana: Can I repeat back what I heard?

Charles: Yeah.

Ariana: It sounds like your biggest obstacle in wanting to make a commitment to invest in me today is the fact that I want to pursue the EAP path. So were I to remove that hurdle, and so we are gonna focus on a licensing situation and we can license to the management consulting firms, and we can license to behavioral health providers, would that change your perspective and could I count on you to commit today?

Charles: Ah, I wouldn't commit today. But I like the // reframe and rephrase. // But I will say is I would like to follow your journey during Techstars. I think for me, understanding the business model's important. Not because I care about the metrics; I just think it impacts the product you build and who your audience is, and I care a lot about that when we invest. We would - I would - if you came back to me and said, we have perfect clarity, this is the model we want to pursue, // haven't sold to anybody yet, but I've learned these things and we have high confidence, that would be sufficient for me. //

Mac: So, I already said I'm in. // I will tell you, though, things that worry me is you're still trying to figure out who your customer is, // The other thing that worries me. // You are an amazing story teller, which means you're an amazing pitcher, which means it makes it hard to tell how much is real and how much is BS. And I can say that to you -


Mac: - cos I was the exact same way as a founder.

Charles: Yeah.

Mac: I was really good at pitching. There was a lot of smoke and mirrors in the background. // But the idea, meeting those employees where they are, and to get real value out of your employee - like so many employers spend all this money on employee benefits that go unspent. If you can change just a fraction of that, you have something real. //

Neal: Easy. I'm in. I'm staying in.


Neal: I've been in the whole time. 

Ariana is actually in Neal’s Techstars program. He already invested before the pitch.


Neal: So with that, 120k from Techstars and hopefully a lot more that I can help you raise over the next few months.//

Jillian: Remind me of the terms again. You're raising?

Ariana: A million.

Jillian: At?

Ariana: If you would like to be the lead, I would be very happy to have the conversation with you about what you think this round should be priced at.

Jillian: Well, // what is it now for Mac? He said 50,000. So what are the terms?

Ariana: Well, I don't think 50 will be the lead, so I plan to honestly find out, like, soft circle interest and if someone said, I'm ready to lead this, let them have a strong voice in deciding what...

Jillian: Okay. But you should have some sort of answer. 

Elizabeth: You should charge it -

Mac: What would you like. Like if you could -

Ariana: 9 million pre.

Jillian: Ooof. Okay. // Well, I'd be out anyway.

Ariana: What would make you feel like this would be a risk worth taking?

Jillian: Listen, I'll be really // honest - // I'm sold on you but not the business model. And for that reason, I'm out. But I also want to tell you that I think that 9 pre is very, very frothy. // 

Elizabeth: I think so.

Jillian: Yeah.

Ariana: Yeah.

Jillian: I think you're gonna lose people with that -

Elizabeth: I also think you should not wait for a lead and you should just set terms and pull people in like one on one -

Jillian: Four pre.

Elizabeth: - increase the valuation as you go along. Because as you need money less, you can increase that valuation.

Ariana: Okay.

Jillian: Yeah. // I don't know what the burn is presently, which is what?

Ariana: I want to have that conversation if you're ready to invest.


Jillian: Okay, that's the answer that I didn't want. 

Ariana: I know what the burn is. But it's more that I'm new at this. And so I don't know -

Mac: But you can share your burn with us. That's a common thing.

Ariana: Oh. Okay.


Mac: - questions are okay.

Ariana: But this is why it pays to just be honest -

Jillian: Yeah, no, no, this is great.

Ariana: So we're burning just over 30,000 a month. // So I think - I hear - the three who aren't ready yet, I totally hear the points. // If I, by the end of Techstars, had more paying customers for licensing content or more customers who said we will pay X for this Slack app, does that change things? Cos I'm - I'm a person who if I know what you need to say yes, I'll go make it happen.

Elizabeth: So for me, it's not about the traction. Because with your salesmanship, you can get anybody left and right. I want to understand the why behind it.  // I want to know why they're buying.// 

Ariana: Okay. Very fair. 

Jillian: Okay. All good to go.

Charles: Awesome.

Ariana: Awesome, everyone. Thank you.

[thank yous]

Mac: This - this founder, Ariana's amazing. But again, I am a little scared because she's such a good salesperson. Like, those founders are the ones that get you excited, that get you hyped and then you get in and you dig in and then like - uh-oh. // 

Jillian: I just didn't find this compelling.

Mac: I know.//

Jillian: // This particular video, did this rock your socks or was it not - I mean, this didn't rock my socks.//

Mac: I'll also say this though, she seems very coachable. She almost seems too coachable. You can't be at a point where I will do whatever it takes to get your money. Because at the end of the day, you have to have conviction in what you're building.

Jillian: Yes. I - actually, I was worried about the response.

Mac: Yeah, when she said that to Charles. I was like -

Jillian: Yeah. She said, well, if I change the business model and if I forget the EAPs and if I do this and I just go - and I thought to myself, ooh, oh, cringe, cringe

Elizabeth: You should stick to your guns at some point.

Jillian: Yeah. Yeah. I would have said, you know what, let me prove this out, right.

Elizabeth: If I can prove this to you, can I come back.

Charles: Can I come back. //

Jillian: But I also didn't like the - when I asked her, you know, what the valuation was -

Lisa: Right.

Mac: Nine pre.

Jillian: Oh. Nine pre. I mean, that just shows me -

Mac: I might be out on that one.

Jillian: - a little - yeah. I'm out! // You know, she shouldn't have said 9. She should've done her homework and said, okay, companies in this space at this point, especially with capital being so constrained right now, you know, that those days of frothy valuations are kind of over.

Elizabeth: But she may not know. Numbers are all over the place.

Mac: Hold on. Yeah, so Neal, let me ask you. // Is she a first time founder?

Neal: Ah, she worked at a few startups. But she is a first time founder.

Mac: So even if she worked at startup, a first time founder, like those are stuff you learn over time.

Jillian: Every founder should know. Every founder should know. Don't say anything. If you don't know something, don't say anything.

Lisa: But you pushed her!

Mac: But you pushed her!

Jillian: [inaudible] She's gonna be pushed around her entire life. Welcome to being an entrepreneur.

Josh: But Jillian, you're a force of nature.

Jillian: Yeah, well, so is she!// 

Elizabeth: She could have thrown it back to you and asked you, well, what do you think is fair?

Mac: She did.

Jillian: She actually -

Elizabeth: No. She said, if you're going to lead -

[general agreement]

Neal: That's right.

Jillian: Which I thought was a little bit cocky, but I'm okay with cocky and confident, which she clearly was confident and I want that, I want to invest in that. But I also think there was a little - okay, never mind. I said enough.


Neal: Jillian!


Mac: I like cocky founders.


Neal: That was fun.

Lisa: Okay. Break time. Coffees are in the control room.

Neal: Nice. Thank you. I felt your aura. I felt Jillian just like heating up around me. It was - it was a red aura.

When we come back, things take a dramatic turn. And then….. another dramatic turn. Both dramatic turns are coming up.




Welcome back. A month after pitching the investors on our show, Ariana completed Techstars Chicago. The program ended with another pitch - to a room full of investors on demo day.


But that pitch… was very different from the one she gave on our show. Yet, to me and Lisa, it sounded pretty familiar.


[music] This is the Stigma app. In it members can watch stories to see living proof that they're not alone and ask for or receive messages of hope from members who share their lived experience. As our members engage with content, we learn more about their needs and recommend stories and resources that are relevant to them. When someone struggles with their mental health, they're looking for hope, so that's exactly what we give them. [music out]

Ariana: Last week, Google named Stigma 2022’s best app for good. [applause] In the last seven days, we have more than doubled the size of our community.

In her new pitch, there was no mention of Slack apps or EAP’s. Stigma was a social mental health app once again. Which made me wonder if Mac, who was particularly excited about the Slack piece, was still interested in investing. So Mac and I got on a call with Ariana, and my first question for her was… what made you pivot back?

Ariana: I was listening to a lot of voices in the Techstars ecosystem and also, um, among investors from, from east coast to west coast of what people thought were opportunities. There is a lot of appetite in the Midwest for B2B kind of stuff. So people loved the HR angle. I went to San Francisco and met with Sequoia and they were like, this is a bad path. Don't go down it. And so I had to take all of these inputs and say, what is the company I. So I have a piece of paper that is in my kitchen that says, this is the company I want to build. I wrote it nine months ago. I go back to it constantly and remember that I only want this to work if it's the company that's gonna help people. // The problem and the sort of bad news for today's call is that it takes time to earn trust and the moment we take on a big amount of capital, we understand that you all, as venture capitalists, have returns to make and growth targets to hit. And I won't trade on the trust that we've earned too early, um, to end up losing this audience because what they feel like is all they all this was, was a funnel to get them to a sale. And so, I actually believe that now is not the right time for us to fundraise.//

Mac: So let, let me say first and foremost, I am as impressed with you today as I was when I first met you, number one, number two, // your talking points. Um, got a little // antagonistic and very like, Hey, Mr. Vc, these are things I know I'm hearing. I want to get ahead of 'em. I know you try to preempt things, but like you could have given us a chance to show you that we not every other vc, and to tell you, quite frankly, from what you've told me, I a hundred percent agree with you. // Like we as investors, we want returns. There are specific things we want. // But at the end of the day, as an entrepreneur, this is your business. // And if what you believe firmly believe is the right business is going to take slower to ramp up, then yeah, it might not be the right time to raise money. But that's okay! But that's when you just ask us like, Hey, this is my plan. This is what I wanna do. Are there some ways you can help? You don't have to go on the whole die tribe and like, look, this is my company. I gotta follow it. Like, nah, we, we, we got that. We here. Like I, I kind of feel like I wanna give you a hug. It feels like you've been giving, you've been having some hard conversations, having people tell you what you should do with your business when it's still your business, like it's yours. //

Ariana: It's so hard to, to, um, to be a social impact founder and care so much. And it's scary. Like I [00:12:00] came in being like, am I really gonna do this? I was like talking to myself in the mirror before this call. I was like, are you really gonna be like, no.  // And it's not that we don't need and want capital, it's more that I don't wanna take the risk, I don't wanna take the risk of diluting this sort of beautiful thing that we have and the brand affinity that we've earned by just being really authentic. Um, so I feel very seen and I think that's what all human beings want. So thank you Mac, um, for, for saying what you did, because there have been some hard conversations and tons of self-doubt. 

Mac: We all have self-doubt. So don't worry, we all struggle with this and like whatever's the right way to lead the company. Like it's just hard. // So you gotta do what you believe is right for your company. It was great to see you again. Congratulations on all the work you've done. Congratulations on, you know, being true to yourself.

Ariana: thank you

Mac: That can be a really hard thing for founders

Well… in a first for the show, a founder rejects the investor. Or rather, rejected all VC’s everywhere. I guess sometimes to stay true to your vision, the right thing is to just say no. 


Josh: Ariana… are you fundraising again?

Ariana: Uh. Yes. 

Just one week ago, Ariana told us she was back in the fundraising game. It was after another pitch, this one at SXSW, where something changed her mind.

Ariana: I was selected as the, one of the top eight companies. Um, went to Austin, pitched and won $10,000. So I won the pitch competition. It was really great. And I was at South by Southwest with enough people saying like, you should raise, you should raise a small round to get you to those milestones that. Better position you. Um, it helped me be a little bit more realistic about what's possible, but also kind of see this other path where, um, especially angels who are passionate about the mental health space, who see that this really is innovative, but it is going to take time. Um, and that it's a little bit more patient capital than it would be for, you know, a, a VC investing in a seed round. Um, I think that's exactly the right fit. Um, and I started to see it more as I talked to investors, um, at South by, so. 

Those investors helped Ariana realize that fundraising didn't necessarily mean she'd have to compromise on the vision for stigma. And - it could help her build out a new feature she's really excited about, using generative AI.

Ariana: So where a lot of AI right now in the world is // working on kind of replicating a human conversation or a conversation with a therapist. We're not doing that. We are not therapy. We're not trying to replace therapy. //  What this model would be would be more data capture. // Questions asked to you that are based on the tenets of narrative therapy and the structure and framework that people who practice narrative therapy use. //

Josh: Okay, could you give me an example of how that would look? Let's say, um, that I came to the app and I was feeling lonely and I'm like, I'm gonna ask for some hope because I feel terrible. And so I record a video that says I'm a loser. I don't have any friends. Even my mom hates me, I'm gonna be alone forever. And then we publish it so that the, the audience, uh, in the community that we have can respond. // The first implementation // is the integration of generative AI that we have trained on the hundreds of offers of hope and asks for hope that we already have in the platform. That will almost instantly give you an offer of hope generated by AI. The narrative therapy piece would say, do you wanna try and rework this story? //

Um, so it might be, do, do you not have any friends at all? Is there, can you name one friend that you have? Well, yes, I have a lot of friends. They just don't live in Chicago and so now what it's doing is it's sort of unpacking some of the. Of the story that I tell myself some of the details to say what's the truth behind that? And then what you are at the end Fed, um, created by generative AI is a new script. A new version of your story. So now I might say // I'm not a loser. I actually have a lot of friends and a lot of my friends don't live in the city where I live. But the friends that do live here know that I'm a solo founder and a single mom with a child with a disability. // So maybe they don't invite me to some things cuz they know how busy I am and my mom and I love each other. We just had that one fight. Whatever the story might be. Um, but what this enables you to. Is, do that work internally and become your mental health's own best champion. So you get support from individuals, from AI in the immediate term, and then the ability to kind of work through some of these things on your own.

After all the back and forth - between the business, and the fundraising - Ariana feels like she’s finally landed on something that feels true to her vision. 

Ariana: The fact that we are validating that we are a destination that people trust to come to when they're struggling.  // That's to me what matters. Like if it all went away tomorrow, I did something really incredible with my time. Um, I sacrificed a lot for it. And so I feel like if I get to do that at scale, it'll be the greatest gift there is. Um, but I know that I've already. A lot of the things on that list, it's still, um, you know, scary as it always is building a business. But, um, the impact is there and, and that's a really important piece for me and, and my satisfaction.

Ariana is officially back to fundraising, for a smaller amount than the million she was asking for on our show. She has an email out to Mac that is still awaiting a response. Mac? What are you gonna do?

Hey, if you’ve been enjoying this season of the show, if you would just go to pitch.show/text, on your phone, and just send the show to one friend. That would be amazing.

Next week on The Pitch…

Alex: to really make electric cars viable for the mass market, a couple of things need to happen first. These cars need to be able to drive further, charge faster, cost less, and most importantly, not catch on fire. 

Jillian: Hate when that happens.

Alex: Yeah. //The suite of patented battery components that we make eliminate fire risk and they can make an electric car drive as far as 450 miles on a single charge. 

That’s next week in The Pitch Room. See you on Wednesday.

We’re casting founders for the next season of our show, to be recorded this June in San Diego CA. Applications are closing SOON. So if you’re a founder raising pre seed or seed, go to pitch.show/apply and upload your pitch deck.

And if you want more from us, subscribe to Pitch+. You’ll get ad-free listening to the entire catalog and occasional bonus content. Plus, it’s a really good way to support the show. Just go to pitch.show/plus to learn more.

The Pitch is me, Josh Muccio, Lisa Muccio, Kerrianne Thomas, Anna Ladd, and Enoch Kim.

Music in today’s show is from The Muse Maker, Breakmaster Cylinder, Wilson Trouvé, Joey Kantor, Our Many Stars and Onders.

The Pitch is made in partnership with the Vox Media Podcast Network. 

The Pitch, Inc. and their respective employees and affiliates do not provide investment advice or make investment recommendations. The information provided on this show should not be used as the basis for making investment decisions. Listeners should conduct their own research and consult with their own investment advisors before making any investment decisions.


Jillian Manus // Structure CapitalProfile Photo

Jillian Manus // Structure Capital

Investor on The Pitch Seasons 1–10

Jillian Manus is Managing Partner of an early-stage Silicon Valley venture fund, Structure Capital. Branded “Architects of the Zero Waste Economy," they invest in underutilized assets and excess capacity. She was named one of the top 25 early-stage Female Investors by Business Insider in 2021. Jillian serves on numerous corporate and non-profit boards, these include: Stanford University School of Medicine Board of Fellows, NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center Board of Directors, Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

Charles Hudson // Precursor VenturesProfile Photo

Charles Hudson // Precursor Ventures

Investor on The Pitch Seasons 2–10

Charles Hudson is the Managing Partner and Founder of Precursor Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on investing in the first institutional round of investment for the most promising software and hardware companies. Prior to founding Precursor Ventures, Charles was a Partner at SoftTech VC. In this role, he focused on identifying investment opportunities in mobile infrastructure.

Elizabeth Yin // Hustle FundProfile Photo

Elizabeth Yin // Hustle Fund

Investor on The Pitch Seasons 6–10

Elizabeth Yin is the Co-Founder and General Partner at Hustle Fund, a pre-seed fund for software startups. Before founding Hustle Fund, Elizabeth was a partner at 500 Startups, where she invested in seed stage companies and ran the Mountain View accelerator. She’s also an entrepreneur who co-founded the ad-tech company LaunchBit, which was acquired in 2014. Her book is called Democratizing Knowledge: How to Build a Startup, Raise Money, Run a VC Firm, and Everything in Between.

Neal Sáles-GriffinProfile Photo

Neal Sáles-Griffin

Investor on The Pitch

Neal Sáles-Griffin is an entrepreneur, teacher, and nonprofit leader. He co-founded the first beginner-focused in-person coding bootcamp, and ran for mayor of Chicago in 2019. He's currently the Managing Director of the Techstars Chicago accelerator as well as the Techstars Rising Stars fund, and is an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering where he teaches entrepreneurship.

Mac ConwellProfile Photo

Mac Conwell

Investor on The Pitch

McKeever "Mac" Conwell II is managing partner at RareBreed Ventures. Mac is a former software engineer and was a former DOD contractor with top-secret clearance. He was a two-time founder with an exit and a failure. Next Mac moved on to venture capital via the Maryland Technology Development Corporation as part of their seed investment team. Mac went on to found RareBreed Ventures, a pre-seed to seed venture fund that invests in exceptional founders outside of large tech ecosystems.

Ariana VargasProfile Photo

Ariana Vargas

Founder of Stigma

Ariana is one of the 46% of Americans who lives with mental illness. She was born in Costa Rica to a father with schizophrenia, is the mother of an autistic son, and lives with diagnosed anxiety disorder and panic attacks. She is also the founder and CEO of STIGMA, a mental health app whose mission is to get people on the path to healing sooner.

In August 2022, she and her team launched the STIGMA App. 120 days later, Google named it 2022’s “Best App for Good.”

Ariana is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and spent much of her career developing employer branding, DEIB, and social impact content for startups to Fortune 500s. She has appeared on television, radio, and conference stages speaking about social impact, storytelling, and mental health, and is now working with companies to create thoughtful programming that shines a light on inspiring individuals whose stories help workplaces nurture compassionate company cultures.