Ever wonder how the idea for Ensu was born? Turns out, it happened at a holiday party. Today, we’re interviewing the CTO and co-founder of Ensu, Travis White.
Travis shares with us his own listening habits, his favorite features in the app, and reveals the story of how he got inspired to work on the mission of mental health care. Read on to learn more about the Ensu founding story and what features Travis might be building next.
Danielle Frider: What kind of music do you listen to?
Travis White: For productivity, I really like the Hamilton soundtrack. I've been listening to it on repeat, at least at least once once a week, if not more. Then there's also this other great collaboration mix that was put out, it's called The Hamilton Mixtape. It's got these really good artists that pretty much took the Hamilton soundtrack songs and then remixed them and made them their own. It's got Usher, Chance the Rapper, Sia, Wiz Khalifa, John Legend, The Roots, Watsky, and even demos from Lin-Manuel Miranda himself.
Whenever I'm running or working out, I have a specific workout playlist that’s the standard go to. The playlists I listen to used to depend whether I was rock climbing, boxing or running, but now it's pretty much just running. Recently, I've been really big into Dua Lipa, Sia, Ava Max and Alan Walker.
I don't think that many people would listen to the type of music that I listen to when I'm working out, but I like them for their fun beat. I think that they’re really uplifting.
DF: When did you start learning about the connection between music and mental health?
TW: The connection with music came through the research we did at high schools. When we first founded the company, we saw students were heavily using streaming apps. I don't remember Spotify being a thing back when I was in high school, all we had was Napster, MySpace, and some other random music sites.
I started learning about mental health primarily when I was in college. That's also when it started affecting me the most. In the later years of college, as my studies were getting harder, I went through very serious bouts of depression and self hatred, self loathing, and substance abuse issues.
I do specifically remember that in the library, I'd be there late: 2 am, 5 am, 7 am. I would listen to instrumental music back in those days. Probably looking back, I would say I listen to instrumental music when I’m feeling depressed or unhappy.
DF: Did your own experiences with mental health inspire you to found the company?
TW: Yes, it was probably the main reason. I struggled for a long time and I didn't really know how to get help, where to get help, or how to feel like I wasn't alone.
I remember one time trying to get a therapy appointment through the college health center. After a few phone calls, they finally said the earliest they could see me was in 6 weeks. At that point, the semester was going to be over—it felt completely hopeless going through them.
So, yes my mental health was definitely a big part of founding Ensu. I'm very fortunate to be in the position that I am, so I figured I should try and do something good and try to help people who may be in a similar scenario, or maybe slightly different one, but still feeling the same way, feeling isolated and alone.
DF: So in college, you were feeling isolated and didn't know where to turn, how did that end up for you? What ended up working?
TW: A lot of it was luck at the end of the day. I was able to have a really strong support network at school, very close friends who I was able to spend lots of time with.
I ended up living together with one of my really good friends our last semester and that was just a fantastic experience, even though the academic part of school was absolutely terrible. I do not think I would have been able to get through it if it wasn't for the friends that I had, the support network that I had, and those relationships.
DF: How did you meet up with your co-founders and how did you decide to become co-founders?
TW: Amol and I were at a Christmas holiday party. Remember when you could go to parties?
So, we got to talking and he said, “Oh yeah, definitely interested in exploring startups and trying to start my own and building something great.” And I thought, “Yeah, that's pretty much why I'm out here too.”
We talked about a few different ideas and things that have affected us and came to the realization that we definitely could do this. He came from the finance and banking world. I came from a pure engineering background, so it was a perfect fit.
We took three or four months to do some research, and then we stuck to it. We did it. We made it happen.
Then we met Chris. It probably wasn't even four or five months in. One of my friends from back Maryland called me and said, “Hey, my buddy, Chris, he's moving out to California. He's from University of Maryland. He does user research and he's a big product guy. Do you have anyone you could connect him with?” And I was like, “Well, he literally fits the skill set that we need. So yes, we can probably find something for him.”
He joined us shortly after, and it just worked out perfectly. Looking back, it was quite the interesting series of events to get us here, for sure.
DF: Okay, and in the app today, what is your favorite existing feature?
TW: Surprises! I feel like every time I get a Surprise, it just always makes me smile, and I don't think that I've encountered that before on many different apps.
I like the ability that Surprises have to brighten your mood and cheer you up. It's kind of in the moment like, “Oh, wow, like a friend sent me something.” That definitely makes me feel good. I normally send pictures of TC (the Ensu Cat) in my Surprises. It's always fun to have that message and send it off to a friend.
DF: In your dream world, what features would you build next in Ensu?
TW: I would love to see Surprises beefed up more. We've talked about adding in Bitmojis. We've talked about adding in money. So you connect up your bank account and then you send like $1, $2, or something small.
I remember specifically, one of my best friends in college, we would always just Venmo each other 2 cents, or 10 cents, or 53 cents. Really random, obscure amounts of money. Looking back, that's a funny way of sending someone a message like, “Hey, I'm thinking of you,” or “Hey, how's your day going?” But, without directly texting them. Instead, you're just sending small amounts of money to them. So I think that that would be really cool to see.
One of the other things that we've talked about, which I think would also be really, really fascinating is to have a Fitbit connection in the app. So you can connect up and you can see things like your sleep and your fitness activity, especially because those two things are so directly related to your mental health.