Meet Sophia Parvizi-Wayne, Founder and CEO of Kanjo

Meet Sophia Parvizi-Wayne, Founder and CEO of Kanjo, an app that helps families predict better mental health outcomes. Sophia’s own story is incredible. She battled Anorexia Nervosa at the age of 16, being an elite athlete where low body weight was considered to be the norm. At the age where mental health was a taboo topic, Sophia launched a nationwide campaign working with the government and the Mental Health Foundation to introduce a peer-to-peer education scheme currently piloted in majority of schools.

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

I’m Sophia, the CEO and Co-Founder of Kanjo Health alongside Stefan Bostock. I don’t need more than a sentence to describe the problem we are solving – we are in the midst of a mental health epidemic for children, and not enough is being done to prevent it. The thing is, no one is looking at it from the perspective of the whole family. It’s a problem for children, whose future mental health is shaped in their early years, and it’s a problem for parents, who spend on average 40 hours per week while at work simply worrying if their child is okay.

Kanjo personalises family healthcare, turning children’s games and activities into accurate, evidence-based insights and advice for parents. We are the emotional toolbox children have never had, and the only honest parental comfort blanket.

Building Kanjo felt like a return to a space that I had been in for a long time, since I was sixteen and first diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. I wasn’t born with an eating disorder but looking back at it now, I realise there was a lot I could have worked on with my parents that down the line could have prevented the eating disorder- that’s where Kanjo could have stepped in. Following my eating disorder, I launched one of the largest mental health campaigns of its time in the UK, working with the mental foundation to later launch a peer-to-peer education scheme.

In my spare time, I honestly just run a lot and watch Instagram reels of dogs that my dad sends me.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all, I had actually planned a totally different career. I studied History and Journalism at university and was sure that was my path. I was writing for a number of magazines, had interned at every broadsheet I could find and was adamant that I would be the next Editor in Chief of GQ. However, when my mother had cancer during my second year of university, and I began writing her biography (predicting the worst-case scenario), I realised that I was a pretty good problem-solver and could make a company to preserve people’s history. That was my first company – turning people’s conversations into books using natural language processing. From then on, the bug stuck with me, and I realised I could take the skills from journalism and create the story of the companies I would go on to build.

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

I could write a book on this, and I’m only 25! There are a few major ones that come to mind though. I have a huge need for external validation and have to constantly find people to tell me that I’m doing well and that my decisions are correct. I think as a woman we are often primed to think we are wrong and having the confidence to back my own decisions without over analysing the consequences is something I work on every day. I think the second one would be learning how to be a woman in a senior position at a very young age and how to communicate appropriately.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Founding Kanjo of course. I think the biggest moment for us was actually having parents and children test our app for the first time and realise it actually worked. It was the biggest breath of relief- we built something that actually works and people like it?!

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

My parents. My mother is the Founder of the period-care company Freda, and I think watching her as I was growing up made me feel like founding a company was normal and far less intimidating than I would have found it without her. Alongside my father, she created an environment for me that was so understanding and supportive, and I think that’s the big thing – surround yourself with people who are there for the lows and willing to support your wild dreams, even if they couldn’t fathom doing it themselves.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I came into the tech space with little to no tech experience. I’m not a developer and the two coding classes I took at Duke during my time there were a real struggle. For me, it was getting to grips of understanding the tech, even if I couldn’t implement it myself. It’s reading, keeping up to date and trying to meet people who can teach me more unashamedly. I recognise that I have a lot to offer in the tech industry and that by sharing my knowledge, I can learn more from those with different experiences.

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

Implement earlier promotions, allow and encourage women to learn new skills alongside their job and enable them to feel confident enough to know that they can achieve higher. Confidence isn’t just introspective, it’s also cumulative and made up of those around you. Elevate women!

There are currently only 21 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?

During school, I found technology pretty scary and quickly decided I wasn’t going to pursue a degree in computer science. Technology these days is foundational to our day-to-day lives and should be taught to everyone in the same way we are taught English and Maths. Making the subject approachable, removing gender bias and making it accessible to everyone from a young age is what we need to do.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I love ‘How I built this’ with Guy Raz. It’s a great podcast that shows the entire journey of founders, both technical and not – it’s honest, inspiring and shows them as real people. That would be my go-to for podcasts. WeAreTechWomen is my go-to for anything online alongside Sifted, which is a great source of all things tech and start-up.

When it comes to events, more and more of them are being hosted for technical females and founders, which is a great way to meet like-minded women. When it comes to women who want to build anything of their own, I would always recommend Entrepreneur First. Finally, there are a growing number of communities for Diverse Founders such as Diversity X among many other brilliant groups.

How can your tech help solve mental health issues in children?

Our unique combination of intelligent gaming and digital biomarkers means we can provide

personalised insights and feedback for parents – something they cannot access right now. Looking at the data longitudinally means parents no longer have to compare their child to another one but look at their development and emotional being over time.

What do you think drives the success of tech? How do you know that tech is going to solve a specific problem?

For a consumer-facing business your customer is everything. If your customer uses your product, enjoys and pays for your product and, most importantly, finds real utility in it, you know you’re onto something. Build for your customer, solve their actual problems and not the ones you assume they have.

Have you ever envisaged yourself working in tech space?

Before building my first company – not a chance! I had a weird fear of technology despite excessive use of it every day. It was meant to be built by people who were smarter than me, and I was just there to use it. However, over the years, I’ve realised a) it’s not that scary b) I’m meant to be in the technology space and c) technology is the greatest way to solve the world’s biggest problems at scale. And I’m a problem-solver!

If you could go back and talk to the younger self, what would you say?

  • Not everyone is going to like you and your idea or believe in where you believe you will be. Surround yourself with people who believe in you but push you and question you!
  • You’re killing it already!