In episode eight Kate shares the psychology behind giving advice, her experience launching advice app Sooth including her career steps that led to it, and why she thinks we should all be talking more openly about our family life.

Listen now:

This episode is also available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.

A little about Kate:

Kate is the co-Founder of Sooth – a mobile platform which helps people to seek and receive anonymized advice from their most trusted friends. Kate is an expert on combining business with research and psychology – in fact, she has Ph.D in Social Psychology, she was VP of Measurement Science at Nielsen, and she founded multiple social technology and research start-ups.

Show Notes:

  • Sooth started with a conversation Kate and her friend Lucy had about a poor experience Lucy had in attempting to give a friend advice. Discussed what might have gone wrong. Kate was in a position at that time when she needed advice but felt she wasn’t getting honest feedback.
  • Why people are not honest with advice– People want to make you feel good, there’s a positivity bias. It’s an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation. People often have bad reactions. Some people just want validation, some want permission to control the interaction.
  • Solving this problem with technology – Exchanging advice is very personal – involves vulnerability and compassion. There’s a role for technology to play, to give us a leg up in this process.
  • Sooth app experience – When you enter the product you see the Sooth stream – anonymous situations categorized and color-coded by the emotion they are presenting with. Can vote on the options they have put out there, give free-form advice, and vote on other people’s advice. Can ask advice of people you know or through the sooth stream and then can receive advice back anonymously and anonymized.
  • User observations/learnings – People are often more willing to give advice than they are to request advice. Some people self-identify as advice-givers. No clear demographic skew (e.g. not skewed toward female) but everyone is a self optimizer, wants to be their best self. Lots of cross-over with fitness enthusiasts. Some categories like romance, first jobs skew younger. Life transitions will trigger people to join the community. Now look for people within certain life moments, not specific types of people.
  • Biggest learnings
    • How manual it is to acquire users. When you have a big idea, you assume everyone is going to be excited about it. But when you’re asking someone to request advice, it’s asking them to be vulnerable, so you’re asking a lot.
    • Managing users’ needs and goals – in start-ups you want to pivot on all feedback. Have to stay true to the problem, listen to the data that merits moving on. Have a lot of qualitative data and so many different sources that can help you figure out whether you’re going in the right direction, have it always calibrate.

It’s a balance between resilience and failure. Must figure out when you’re persevering in the right way vs. when you’re persevering in the face of data that you shouldn’t [ignore.]

  • Before Sooth – Common thread in everything she’s done -enjoys studying people, figuring people out in the real world. Had breakfast with an advisor and ended up applying to go to grad school and working with him.
  • Deliberate move that impacted career path – Was looking at Craigslist when conducting research and came across an interesting job opportunity at Buzz Metrics in New York – one of the first social media mining companies at the time, which was a perfect match to what she was doing in her lab. Proactively pursued the opportunity even though she didn’t fit the mold they were looking for at all. Was convinced her background applied and was able to convince them that she could translate her training into a new world.

I just went after the opportunity and I’m glad I did. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

  • Figuring out she wanted to be an entrepreneur – Grew up in an environment that supported the idea of creating value, started businesses as a kid with her sister. Always knew she wanted to start her own thing, but didn’t feel she had a knowledge to do it. Nobody ever feels ready. The moment kind of just happened.
  • Navigating career + large family (4 kids!) – Important to talk about this even though it’s difficult. When you have four kids, it’s a forcing function -you have to figure out a way to share yourself and eventually how to incorporate work, exercise, relationships etc. Have to become good at turning on and off. Must make a decision and commit to it e.g. if you decide to focus on work, have to go with it rather than wasting time dwelling on the decision. Has forced her to think about her values and use that as a compass for these decisions.

We have a tendency to hide our family life from our professional lives and that’s a problem, because we don’t develop a language to talk about it. People never have a sense of what’s normal or that others are sharing this same experience with them. It leads to a lot of loneliness as a working mom.

  • One pro-tip: Exercise early and often! This has been a huge part of her family’s sanity over the years.  We should talk about these topics more often, our schedules, how we fit everything in – opening up this discussion was part of the motivation for Sooth. Again, must focus on values that matter most which help shape these decisions.

Advice for others

  • Encourage people to love advice, embrace advice, and rely on the people around you. Ask for advice and ask for them to help.  Reinforces this idea that we’re social animals and helps us feel whole.

Don’t go it alone and feel you have to put up an illusion of confidence or that you know all the answers.

Kate with her family.