Johnny Crowder is a 29-year-old suicide/abuse survivor, TEDx speaker, touring musician, mental health and sobriety advocate, and the Founder & CEO of Cope Notes, a text-based mental health platform that provides daily support to users in nearly 100 countries around the world. Each text combines peer support and positive psychology to train the brain to think in healthier patterns over time. Armed with 10 years of clinical treatment, a psychology degree from the University of Central Florida, and a decade of peer support and public advocacy through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Johnny’s youthful vigor for mental health has impacted millions of lives across the globe.
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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Johnny Crowder: I grew up in and out of treatment for multiple mental health diagnoses, and it was really difficult for me to find a resource that felt real and personal. In the process of pursuing my psychology degree, I fell head over heels for the whole concept of peer support, which changed my trajectory. Instead of trying to become a clinician myself, I knew I wanted to work with clinicians and use my lived experience with mental illness to provide support for others all over the world.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Johnny Crowder: Haha, I consider giving up all the time. I wish I could say I’m indestructible and that I never experience doubt, but that just isn’t true. Building a company is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, which is saying something, considering all of the abuse and illness I’ve faced throughout my life.
Last year, when COVID hit, the business bank account hit zero and I had to transfer over my life savings just to pay my CTO. It really wasn’t pretty, and I felt like there was an expiration date on the company – such a scary feeling, and I almost wanted to quit before we ran out of money just to protect what little was left of my financial stability. Fortunately, we wound up closing our first government contract later that year, which paid back all of our debt and allowed us to continue growing. So glad I didn’t throw in the towel!
Is there a particular podcast you listened to, or business thought leader that you find helpful while maneuvering this pandemic?
Johnny Crowder: Dude, Seth Godin is the man. I was listening to his podcast all the time, and it helped me wrap my head around how to handle this situation ethically. I mean, we’re a mental health company that is living through a global mental health crisis. Staying on the right side of your moral code is paramount in a situation like that, and doing right by your customers and the community at large is simply non-negotiable.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Johnny Crowder: Regarding Cope Notes as a company, I see people being able to redeem a subscription through their school, their employer, their local government, their insurance provider, etc with the tap of a button. I see people saying, “This is the best, easiest to use and most effective mental health texting platform on the planet.” Regarding the culture around mental health as a whole (way more interesting and important to me), I see people saying, “Well, mental health is just a part of the health conversation, just like physical health. We’re done stigmatizing the conversation and treating it like some auxiliary component – now, it’s a mainstay.”
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
- Willingness to listen – As I said earlier, other people know things you don’t, so open those ears up!
- Willingness to change – I try not to get too married to any one idea, strategy, feature… the world changes every day, and while remaining steadfast and staying the course is essential, I always try to consider how and why to adapt to the marketplace and the community around us.
- Willingness to try again tomorrow – Virtually every single day, we hear “no” from somebody. We experience disappointment, we miss a deadline, we fall short of a goal, etc. It happens all the time to every company, no matter how big or small. I do my best to keep these micro-failures from discouraging me and the company’s mission.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Johnny Crowder: That I can be proud of my appearance! For years, I felt ashamed of my tattoos, and I was given a hard time in professional settings about the way I look. But the more I leaned into truly being myself and owning my “look,” I realized that it helped me stand out. Being covered in tattoos is a great conversation starter! Beyond that, without feeling comfortable in your skin, it’s challenging to hold the level of confidence required to build a successful brand and company.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Johnny Crowder: I am learning to trust and delegate, which any founder knows is one of the most difficult parts of growing a team. What this requires is a very clear and open communication pathway, where you feel that you can say anything to anyone on your team and vice versa. If your employees feel that they can voice pain points and grievances in real-time rather than stewing on them for months, and you feel that you can offer suggestions and provide feedback in a truly constructive way, autonomy is possible. Any workplace without that open line of communication is a breeding ground for micromanagement.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Johnny Crowder: I love the phrase “Tomorrow might be better” because it is literally always 100% true. You never know what tomorrow will look like. So if today kicked your butt, that’s okay. Because tomorrow might be better.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Johnny Crowder for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Johnny Crowder or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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