When Mexican-born entrepreneur Andrea Campos decided to create a digital tool to improve her own mental health, she knew millions of other Spanish speakers could also benefit from it. What she didn’t know was her app would become a lifeline for many Latin Americans during a looming global health crisis that forced people into isolation.
Since it’s official launch in March 2020, Yana, which stands for “You Are Not Alone,” has grown to over six million users and attracted more than $1.8M from investors, including $315,000 from Magma Partners, Hustle Fund and 500 Startups earlier this year, and another $1.5M round this June led by Mexico’s ALLVP.
Yana solves a critical problem for many Latin Americans: providing access to basic mental health support and tools which are limited in many communities, if they are available at all, explained Campos.
Yana combines sophisticated chatbot technology, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) strategies and self-care tools to help users recognize, identify and reduce negative thoughts that trigger symptoms of depression or anxiety. It’s not intended to replace traditional therapy, but Yana’s app can serve as a helpful complement to professional care because it lets users record their thoughts, actions and feelings and track their mental state over time.
Although the app isn’t intended to directly support someone in crisis, if words associated with a mental health crisis are detected, the user will be directed to an SOS button that automatically connects them to the government’s suicide hotline.
Why use a chatbot?
“Yana was created to give people a sense of connection in times of great psychological struggle and loneliness. A chatbot can mimic human interactions and give people a sense of companionship and relationship. Yana isn’t aiming to replace therapists. It’s trying to help people get back on their feet so they may seek professional help, and with a sensitive subject such as mental health, people need this human aspect. The chatbot is the right choice to do so, especially in Latin America where many people don’t have access to traditional therapy,” said Campos.
The issue of mental health access is a personal one for Campos, 27, who has battled depression and anxiety since the age of eight. After suffering in silence for nearly 14 years and many unsuccessful attempts to address her chronic depression on her own, Campos finally found a combination of CBT and pharmacotherapy that worked for her. Around the same time Campos entered therapy, she began teaching herself to code, and that’s when the idea for Yana was born.
“Yana was not initially meant to be a startup. It was meant for me. I wanted to build something that could help me survive my next depressive episode. When I started cognitive-behavioral therapy, the first thing I thought was: ‘Oh my God, I could automate this,’” said Campos.
Campos built the very first version of the chatbot application herself and began experimenting with a small test group in 2018. This successful pilot gave her the confidence to crowdfund enough cash to hire a software developer to build a Facebook Messenger-based chatbot app. While launching on Facebook was intended to keep things simple, not having a standalone app was confusing for users, and the company ran into other roadblocks with Facebook’s policies and technology. Those early lessons pushed Campos to begin developing her own Yana mobile app in January 2020.
Soon after, Campos built and tested a new iteration of her chatbot, attracted an infusion of angel funding, and was well on the way to a broader release of its standalone app. Yana went live in March, the very same week Mexico City went into its first lockdown due to the pandemic.
Yana’s post-launch growth was gradual at first, but in October 2020, the Apple’s App Store featured the Yana app on International Mental Health Day, and the company went from having roughly 80,000 users to reaching one million users just two weeks later. Shortly after that, Google Play highlighted the app as one of the best for personal growth in 2020, which catapulted the app into the spotlight again.
“I had been working and fixing and changing Yana for five years at that point, and it was an amazing experience to see such a response to what we had created. It also validated the incredible need for this kind of solution,” said Campos.
Today the Yana app is one of the top three downloads in 12 Spanish-speaking countries, including Chile, Mexico and Spain. And the company isn’t done innovating yet.
“Our goal is to create an app where all your mental health needs can be met in one place. This sounds simple, but there are many aspects to consider. Right now the main focus is to create and adapt the app to the most important needs of each specific segment that uses Yana,” said Campos. New wellness features on the horizon include daily affirmations, weekly check-ins and meditation exercises.
After having the idea for Yana dismissed, rejected, and ignored countless times, Campos is proud of trusting her gut and having the grit and determination to make Yana a reality. She’s even more proud to be helping people like herself who have felt lost and alone while struggling with mental health issues.
Yana is free for 14 days. After that, the app is available as a monthly ($119 MXN), biannual ($449 MXN) or annual ($719 MXN) subscription.