Energy Inside's Vinay Gidwaney: Promoting Well-being Through the Power of the WebPublished: January 06, 2011
U.S.-based entrepreneurs Vinay and Veer Gidwaney's latest venture, Energy Inside, which the brothers co-founded in 2009, focuses on health and well-being. The first product from Energy Inside is "Pepfly," an electronic way of listening and responding to a user's "inner status" through a variety of online mediums. The result is a service that falls in the space between prescription antidepressants and traditional self-help books. In this discussion with India Knowledge@Wharton, Vinay Gidwaney spoke about the intersection of the Internet and personal well-being, and about his company's future plans.
India Knowledge@Wharton: Can you give us an overview of Energy Inside?
Vinay Gidwaney: Our mission at Energy Inside is to create a space in society for well-being. There needs to be a credible brand in this area, something in between antidepressants and self-help tools. There needs to be something that people, especially young people who are on the Internet, Google and Facebook all the time, can appreciate and trust.
India Knowledge@Wharton: Energy Inside and its product Pepfly are operating in a new, emerging field. Could you describe this new space?
Gidwaney: I don't think the field has been framed yet. It's really the intersection of several different areas and we are at the pioneering stage. First and foremost, we work in the space of psychology. We also bring in cognitive neuroscience. And then, we bring in the Internet and web mediums as a way to deliver our solution. At a high level, we are bringing our knowledge of the brain and human behavior to the Internet to affect people's health in a positive way.
India Knowledge@Wharton: What are some of the potential benefits of using technology in this way and what are the limits of the technology?
Gidwaney: One large benefit of using the Internet is that we can integrate into people's lives. At Energy Inside, we try to provide assistance and an outlet for people at a time [when] they're feeling something negative. By using the Internet or smartphones, we can be pervasive in their lives. Whenever they have a negative feeling, if they're walking to the subway or they're about to walk into a meeting, they can pull out their phone and use [Pepfly]. The other big benefit in using the Internet is that we can aggregate the data we gather and make the system smarter. At the core of our technology, we have developed an algorithm that recommends various experiences on the web to help people. This algorithm only gets better as more people use it and rate the content.
India Knowledge@Wharton: What are some of the things that you and your team or people in the industry are cautious about?
Gidwaney: It's obviously important for us to be ethical in how we deal with these issues.... Severe depression and the repercussions are quite serious sometimes. In those cases [where] we provide assistance, we have to make sure that we do that in an ethical and safe way. That means that if you are using the Internet [and] if you are using a piece of software to get help, we also provide outlets if you need to reach out to a human being -- there's nothing that can replace human interaction.
India Knowledge@Wharton: How does Pepfly respond in cases when someone may exhibit suicidal tendencies?
Gidwaney: First, we ensure that we do not position the product as any sort of cure or treatment for any serious or clinical mental illness. It is important that users recognize that this is not a replacement for professional help. Second, if a user does type in any words that indicate an intention to hurt themselves or others, we redirect them to a support page that provides links and phone numbers to reputable organizations that provide assistance.
India Knowledge@Wharton: Who else is in this space? What are they focusing on and what are the trends here?
Gidwaney: There have always been technologies and ways of getting help [for] mental well-being. And of course, the field of psychology has been around for a long time. The best way to think about it is that there's everything from antidepressants, which are the most prescribed medication in the United States, to self-help. And there's everything in between -- things that are scientific and things that are not. For example, if you go to a bookstore or Amazon, there are literally thousands of books on self-help. Much of it is not helpful. If we go towards the scientific side in psychology, there are many types of practices. For example, one of the most used is "cognitive behavior therapy" (CBT), which is ... sitting down with a therapist and going through a lot of reappraisal of the challenges in your life and trying to understand how those impact your state of well-being and your mood.
The approaches in these cases are clinically based and scientific. When we take this onto the web, there are quite a few things already happening. There are some great technologies [accessible] on your iPhone for example, that help you practice breathing. There are yoga tools. All of these affect mental well-being. Furthermore, there's a lot of clinical or experiential evidence that says the effect is positive, beneficial. We're trying to carve out a special area online where we work with people who can benefit from content on the Internet to positively affect their mood.
India Knowledge@Wharton: Let's say a 22-year-old college senior is invited to use Pepfly on Facebook. How is he or she going to engage with Pepfly and how is it going to be useful?
Gidwaney: One thing they'll notice right away when they start using Pepfly is that it's a private experience. We want people to feel safe in using the product. What we ask in Pepfly is for the user to think about what you're feeling inside. And so, one of the first things that happens in our interface is we ask you about your "inner status." This is different from the "outer status" that one would post on Facebook, for instance. You can type in, "I feel nervous about this exam I have coming up" or "I feel nervous about a date I have." When you type those words, we develop an emotional signature for you. We essentially try to understand your current emotional state. And then, through a recommendation algorithm, we go out onto the Internet into a library of content that we've curated that we know will help you achieve a certain mood.