Jana Dowling

Jana is the CEO of Arkeo, a fitness brand that’s developed a mental fitness tracking app.

Jana’s mission is to change the way people think about what it means to be “fit” to include tracking mental fitness in the exact same way we do our physical fitness. Arkeo was founded in September 2018 and has been through its first seed round of funding and is now moving into it’s next raise.

As an inspirational thought-leader, she has been interviewed on the BBC, London Live, featured in The Huffington Post and Grazia Magazine and delivered training for the likes of Sky and BDO.

Before her change in career, Jana worked as a producer in TV, in fashion publishing, and has performed as a stand-up comedian at the likes of Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

At the moment I work across multiple projects. I’m the founder of ARKEO and also Head of Sweatcoin for Good. Sweatcoin is a global health app that is making the world more active and I head up a department that uses their technology to raise money for charities and do good things across the planet. 55+ million Sweatcoin users walk an average of 20% more after downloading the app so it’s a massive privilege to be part of the team and the positive impact the company is having around the world. I also build out start ups with Michael Horrign from Velocitii Digital, our most recent launch is BykeParking, an app that helps bikers find parking around the UK. So I keep myself busy and am constantly learning.

I set up ARKEO – the new mental health app which tracks mental fitness – in 2018 to encourage everyone to track their mental fitness just as you would your physical fitness. For me, being healthy isn’t just about our physical health, it is a combination of physical and mental health.

We don’t think twice about reaching for Instagram or checking our fitness tracker, and they’re an integral part of many people’s lives. But I want to make ARKEO just as indispensable for anyone who cares about managing their mental fitness.

I set up my company after my own mental health journey. Before ARKEO, I suffered a severe depressive episode. I hit absolute rock bottom and was placed on suicide watch for five weeks, and was unable to work for months. At that point, I decided to take on my recovery like a job, and started monitoring everything. This involved building a tracking system and using the data to help me make decisions to improve my mental wellbeing and get myself out of a very dark hole.

The design behind the app is straightforward. It tracks everyday behaviours, lifestyle choices and challenges, highlighting when they are connected and enabling people to better manage the demands and dilemmas we all face from time to time. The insights provided are just like those we use every day to track and manage our physical health.

I built the tracking system initially to help myself, but I soon realised that a lot more people needed a tool like this. Mental ill health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK, contributing up to 22.8% of the total burden, compared to 15.9% for cancer and 16.2% for cardiovascular disease. In addition, the broader economic costs of mental illness in England have been estimated at £105.2 billion each year.

On my return to work and talking about my experience, I quickly started to meet people in a similar situation – those who had lost jobs or found it challenging to get into work. This issue also led me to create The 888 Collective – a social enterprise designed to help people with mental health issues get back into employment.

I started it with just a second-hand panini machine, selling tea and toasties from an East London shed, hiring anyone with mental health issues who wanted a job. Since then, I have now helped over 40 people make a return to the workplace and will be teaching more courses with referrals from the NHS this year.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I began my career a million miles away from where I currently am. I started working in television as a production coordinator and then moved into fashion publishing. From there, I had a brief period of performing, acting and stand-up comedy and then went back into TV production. I only truly took a step back and planned what I wanted to do with my career and future after my mental health breakdown.

Now I know what my true passion is and it’s simple, helping others. If what I’m doing is adding value to someone else’s life it brings me a sense of achievement. On a personal level, because I’ve experienced how tough ill mental health is – and I’ve been lucky to have help with it in my life – it has made me particularly passionate about helping people through their own mental wellbeing journey by sharing my tracking system and learnings though ARKEO.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Not knowing if I would ever be able to get dressed every morning, let alone working again after my mental ill health was very much a major career challenge. As was taking the career leap of faith from fashion to technology.

Whilst developing my mental health tracker, I was lucky enough to meet Matt Phelan, CEO and Founder of The Happiness Index, who saw the potential in ARKEO, not just for those struggling with mental health issues, but for everyone. As everyone has ‘mental health’.

I embarked on a fundraising campaign for ARKEO, but I didn’t receive major investment and that was very gutting. By the time the pandemic hit, I was in a lot of debt and had no choice but to take both full and part-time jobs.

But I truly believed in the app and so I kept going, making sure I could pay the bills along the way. Then, after lockdown, I was able to go out for funding again and secured enough to get the app to market which was a major turning point.

One of the things I’ve learned about being an entrepreneur and building a business is that nothing will happen the way you thought it would. So, be mindful that plans may change or need to be adapted. Be agile, pivot with your ideas, and take that learning into the future. And I know this is a cliché – but never ever give up. If I had given up when I was first refused funding I wouldn’t be here now.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Launching my own business is my biggest career achievement. The journey into its development, securing funding to build it, and seeing it in the App store has been incredible. It still blows my mind that it is on the App store!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

It is essential to be truthful (to yourself) and brutal (in a positive way) about who you are and what you want to achieve. You can’t be good at everything so play to your strengths and find others who can cover and support your areas of weakness.  I’ve also never let go of the essential ingredients that make up my company – helping myself and helping others.

Also, meeting successful entrepreneurs such as Matt Phelan and being lucky enough to have him as a mentor has been invaluable. Someone giving their time to you gives you confidence in your vision. That is another tip for budding entrepreneurs – get a great mentor who believes in you.

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Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

The numbers still tell a story that not enough women are working in tech. There are certain avenues in tech where you need to have followed a particular journey in education to qualify for specific jobs, which can mean a barrier to many. I am not a technical wizard, but I had a methodology that I believed in and brought others in on my journey to help me build and realise it. Tech needs to be taught in more schools from a young age and interviewees should not be given favourability due their education route. Or worse, their gender.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies should realise that good talent doesn’t always have to work the standard 9-5 working pattern. Those working flexibly, which many women do, should also be rewarded with decent people management strategies. I’ve had a really positive experience whilst working at Sweatcoin – they prioritise and ensure gender equality and diversity across the company, so it is great to see that progress is being made at a global tech company.

How can companies help support their employees mental health?

It is a fundamental issue – the people who guide your organisation to success are your most valuable asset. Performance and success, however you measure it, are driven by people’s abilities, how they work together as a team, and how they cope with challenges.

Mental ill-health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK with huge costs to the economy. And now, after almost two really tough years with Covid-19, the need for mental health vigilance has become even more evident. We’ve had to come up with new ways of communicating, working, exercising and living. But with physical strength comes mental strength, and you become more resilient with mental strength. So today, more than ever, our companies need to promote both mental and physical fitness.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Don’t always follow and believe in the stereotypes, and it doesn’t have to remain a man’s world. I honestly don’t think the men currently at the top want it to remain that way. Perhaps some still do, but they are from a different time and will fade into the background in the near future. We all must be strong, believe in ourselves and own it. Power comes from the ability to self analyse, listen, learn and make decisions you take full responsibility for. I’ve made so many mistakes and will continue to do so but it’s OK because I make decisions based on the information I had at that time, I take full responsibility, learn from them and move on.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Barclays Eagle Labs and London Sports have supported ARKEO from early on. The Royal Society of Medicine asked me to come and run a workshop which was amazing because qualified Doctors were interested in what I’d learned and how I was helping people with the tracking system I developed. Just because you’re at the beginning of a new company or idea, it doesn’t mean big names won’t get behind you, help you and also want to learn from you.

Reach out to everyone, LinkedIn is an incredible platform. Don’t be shy, if you don’t ask you don’t get and if someone can’t help you, don’t take it personally just move on and ask someone else.

I love listening to Podcasts about Founder and CEO journeys. Steven Bartlett’s Diary of a CEO is a great one. For anyone starting out with no clue (like me) I read Start Up CEO – A Field Guide to Scaling up your Business.

Not everything is about business, learning about life and yourself is just as important for success. Stand-up comics have a way of capturing the human race and our behaviours really well, so I watch a lot of comedy and I honestly gain interesting insights that help me to understand myself and our world a little better. I also listen to other podcasts like Joe Rogan. Learning about anything I find interesting always turns out to be useful at some point, so follow your instincts and learn about things that draw you in personally.