Shanyan Fok Koder and Richard Bassett explain how a Hong Kong art entrepreneur joined forces with a former special-forces soldier to launch a health and mental wellbeing app, Mentor360.
“Mental health and mental fitness are universal concerns,” says Shanyan Fok Koder. “And regardless of your demographic, social status, your job or your age, it’s something everyone has to deal with.”
Shanyan Fok Koder & Richard Bassett on Mental Health App Mentor360
The Mentor360 app dropped on World Mental Health Day in October, the cumulation of the last 20 months of work and conversations (usually across continents over Zoom) between former military man Richard Bassett and worldly art advisor Koder. A month later, I’m sitting with both in a North London café talking over slices of pizza.
Their app, they hope, offers everyone a holistic 360 guide and framework to “finding your formula” for mental and physical wellbeing. It uses a hybrid approach, with a core layer of clinicians and professional Mentors and then celebrity Ambassadors (who’ve publicly shared meaningful life stories) critical for building noise and momentum.
“I’d been in the military for a long time. And there were a couple of incidents in my life that made me want to create something,” Bassett, the CEO, explains. “Firstly, it was my father committing suicide. Then my son had a bit of misdirection. And several of my friends in the military had PTSD issues or adjustment disorders.”
“The biggest issue is why people wouldn’t come forward and say they’ve got a problem?” he asks.
“Unlike some apps, we’re not trying to get people hooked. Come on to it when you need it”
— Richard Bassett
The answer often lay in culture, lack of education or concerns about privacy that prevent many from seeking help. With that came Bassett’s idea of creating an app that functions as a “non-judgmental toolkit” with content validated by experts – who include coaches, performance psychologists, mental health-specialising nurses and a clinical psychologist.
Basset’s link with Koder came when his best friend, ex-special forces colleague and TV star Jason Fox, sat next to a pregnant Koder at a charity fundraiser for Born (which researches to prevent premature birth) in late 2019. As the pair talked about their passions for mental health and children’s wellbeing, the connection to Bassett’s idea became quickly apparent.
“Foxy told me that I have to meet his friend, Richard, who’s building this app,” Koder recalls. “I was always wanting to support things that are very meaningful and close to my heart … and now Jason is actually our key mentor. The partnership between Richard and I was almost like two parts of a jigsaw puzzle come together.”
Although some might go to the app for help with stress, trauma or even resources to help with suicidal feelings, Mentor360 is designed specifically as a three-dimensional offering that will also encourage fitness, workouts, performance and meditation or more clinical matters.
“We wanted to maintain the human factor as a constant throughout. So it feels like somebody has given you some advice rather than some process-driven machine learning,” Bassett adds.
The co-founders might come from two different worlds, but the unlikely partnership speaks to the ubiquity of the issues at hand. Bassett’s 25-year military career saw him being appointed the first ever Command Sergeant Major within the UK Special Forces military group. “It was at that stage where I was asked if I wanted to run defence,” he says. “At that point, I thought, I’ve kind of had my fill of the military now, it’s time to move on.”
Koder meanwhile grew up in Hong Kong and the UK as the daughter of Li Ka-shing’s “right-hand man” Canning Fok, carving out a career in the arts and taking over her family’s impressive collection. As a female art entrepreneur and mother, her challenges would be different.
“When I had the misfortune of losing three babies to miscarriage and dealing with that emotional fallout, it led me to want to support this as a cause,” Koder divulges. “If there’d been something like this app available to me, I don’t think I’d have suffered as much as I did emotionally. It’s a topic that’s still very taboo, even in this day and age … and while you eventually find your own community, at the very beginning, you do feel very alone.”
Both were clearly driven towards the app through deeply personal experiences. Bassett saw first-hand how soldiers who’d done several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered – his best friend, Fox, had left the forces with PTSD. Perhaps machismo or fear of institutional repercussions meant that the issue was often ignored or hidden in the military – but he hopes that Mentor360’s holistic approach can gently lead people to explore mental fitness alongside physical performance too.
The male-female perspectives of the pair offer a well-rounded, powerful tool. And while the wellness space is already crowded, Mentor360 stands out by being so broad, human-focused and non-prescriptive.
There’s been exciting traction too. Since its launch, the app has been downloaded in more than 176 countries, with the UK, the US and Australia leading. British schools have reached out and it’s one governance board away from being trialled within the National Health Service (NHS), which means added clinical risk management in the app. That has been an important validation, says Bassett, “especially when an institution like that has picked it out from a huge spectrum of apps on the market today.”
Covid-19 and lockdowns have helped throw light on mental health, taking the conversation more mainstream. The timeliness has hit home; as Bassett says, “there’s a lot of people now struggling with the transition between Covid and normality”.
Koder tells us that the plan is to serve individuals but also institutions such as the NHS and the military. There’s also the option of “white labelling” it, so the app can be packaged and tailored to certain industries or corporate employees. In the future, might they look more global, with different languages and translations? Absolutely, the pair say, but they’re taking it “slow and steady”. There’s been interest from American corporations and Koder says that she’s keen to push into Asia very soon. Although going truly global might mean translating for languages, cultures and tone, as well as working with diverse psychologists, it remains a future ambition.
Mentor360 may be extra helpful in cultures where mental health is still relatively taboo. As Koder says, “I think, coming from our Asian culture, it speaks volumes to me – so much of our culture is about still performance or hiding a lot of what you’re feeling.”
“Unlike some apps,” Bassett adds, “what we’re not trying to do is create a hook or get people hooked. Come on to it when you need it, and if you don’t need it for a while because you’re good, you can just put it away … We’re starting to see those patterns in the trend analysis.”
To get a little personal, I ask what works for them individually to keep a healthy mind and body. Bassett’s formula revolves around daily exercise, time with the family, dogs and good sleep – even the occasional glass of wine on the sofa in front of a crackling fireplace. Koder’s happiness hacks centre around motherhood, being content and at peace in her skin, and looking at life with a certain romanticism: “I always love to see the poetry in my day,” she says, “and I think it’s important to just pause throughout the day, check-in and acknowledge that I’ve achieved these things and I should be proud of myself, rather than just rushing on to the next thing.”