Marcie Cheung: From fashion to healthcare as a queer Asian entrepreneur
By John Kregler, StartOut
Marcie Cheung (she/her) is a founder at heart.
Throughout her life, she’s held multiple positions in varying industries. She’s a hard worker, a determined entrepreneur, and someone who embodies the spirit of our community.
Marcie came to StartOut as the founder and CEO of KindMind, a “therapist-matching solution built specifically to help understand and help clinicians.” Her mission is to provide clinicians and caregivers the mental health support they deserve — something that’s often overlooked and stigmatized. Later this month, Marcie, KindMind, and the rest of her cohort will graduate from the StartOut Growth Lab, joining the next generation of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs.
Marcie’s story is one of innovation and persistence. As a queer Asian woman in entrepreneurship, she’s redefining what it means to be a founder. As part of our ongoing celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, Marcie spoke with us about her journey, the challenges of being an Asian founder, and the future of KindMind.
So Marcie, how did you get here today?
Well, I was born and raised as a typical Bay Area Asian. I had a pretty normal childhood, and I went to UCLA for college, where I graduated with a degree in Mathematics and Economics. Once I graduated, I moved back to the Bay Area and took a job with Cisco as a financial analyst. After a year and a half, I realized my true passion was in the fashion industry, and I would do whatever it took to break into fashion.
I moved to New York and took an unpaid internship as a PR intern, sitting in a fashion closet all day. Even after I got my degree and had a well-paying job in San Francisco, I was willing to do anything to pursue a career in a field that I loved. I worked my way up through various merchandising roles with different fashion brands (Theory, Burberry, and Marc Jacobs) and spent time in Hong Kong overseeing the Asia business.
My time in Hong Kong was relatively short when I came back to get my MBA from Wharton. Post-MBA, I took a chance with a role at an early startup, Jet.com, a fantastic experience. 2 years later, Walmart acquired us. Then 2019, I decided to venture out on my own.
And that’s when you started KindMind?
Almost. I was doing some consulting, which was fun. Still, once I understood the severe mental health issue of healthcare workers, I wanted to create a mental health platform specifically for clinicians. My parents caught COVID-19 early on, and I spent a lot of time with the doctors and nurses caring for them. I realized the pandemic only made things worse and wanted to create a solution for our caretakers.
Often, clinicians have mental health issues that they do not reveal due to stigma. Society looks at them and expects that they are supposed to take care of everyone, including themselves, putting unfair pressure on them. Regardless of who you are or what you do, everyone deserves access to mental health, so we created a platform that would do just that.
What was it like creating the platform?
I had an idea in mind, but I knew I had to understand the pain points directly from my users. I interviewed hundreds of clinicians, took their feedback, and started building. I took my experience in fashion (supply and demand, lead times, etc.), made Jet.com (marketplace models, scaling, pricing, etc.), and took parts of it to build KindMind.
I knew we needed to create a product that would be helpful not only to the clinicians but also to the therapists. We created a platform with an onboarding process that included an intake form where clinicians would list every detail of what they needed in a therapist. I interviewed every therapist on the back end and created a matching model algorithm based on pricing, availability, modality, etc.
Each clinician would be sent three recommendations, and then we’d work to set up a first introduction call for free. This was critical because it enabled you to have an intro call without expectations. It’s so important to find the right fit.
What challenges did you encounter when launching KindMind?
Other than the typical mental challenges of being an entrepreneur, I would say that there were more challenges for women than any of my other identities. There is a different expectation for women that they have to prove so much more before being given a chance. Fundraising as a woman is challenging — only 2% of VC funding went to female entrepreneurs last year, and I hope it continues to change and progress.
There’s also an internal bias from being an Asian woman in business. The goals my elders had for my life are far different from the ones I have for myself. We’re raised to be modest, keep our heads down and contribute to the family, but it’s the opposite in America. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to communicate my vision and work to investors because it just felt like I was boasting.
What advice would you give to other AAPI founders who might feel those same feelings?
There’s no right way to get there, and many opportunities can look like failures and vice versa. Don’t get discouraged because your journey might not look like other founders. We’re working hard to carve out new paths.
Find the part of entrepreneurship that you love and focus on that. Learn what your most significant leverage point is, and figure out how to delegate quickly. Learn from as many people, organizations, and models as you can. If you can find organizations like StartOut specifically to help minority founders succeed, reach out as soon as possible.
These things will help you build your confidence — in your company and yourself. This is the most important thing for any entrepreneur.
What’s next for you and KindMind?
I’m thrilled to announce that Heading Health has acquired KindMind, and I’ve joined them as the SVP of Growth. This is super exciting as we look to the future. We’re making significant strides with patients with severe depression, starting with an ketamine treatments that can help patients with depression and anxiety when combined with therapy.
The pandemic was such a turning point for everyone, and it made us realize how precious life is and how important it is to be living every day. I’m grateful that I’m in this position where I’m passionate about my work and eager to keep pushing forward.
Sometimes it just takes patience to get there.