Female Founders: How CEO Tara Viswanathan Brings Honesty & Positivity to Rupa Health

Tara Viswanathan started Rupa Health, a directory of vetted integrative and alternative medicine providers, in 2018. Here, she shares her real-talk on the ups, downs, and exciting potentials of start-up life; how she releases emotional weight through journaling; and the positive people and forces that inspire her everyday outlook!

This is part of Zencare’s female founder self-care series that explores how start-up founders are making time for self care amid their busy schedules and ambitious dreams!

On the overall mission behind Rupa Health

What does Rupa Health do?

We help chronically ill patients access alternative forms of healthcare.

On finding her self-care groove through stream-of-conscious journaling  

How do you take care of your mental health?

Stream of conscious journaling. Daily, ideally. I’m a huge advocate of this.

I’ve learned that some people “think to talk” – i.e., they think in their head before they speak. Other people “talk to think” – i.e., they speak out loud to make sense of their thoughts.

I am definitively in that second category. So the times when I am spiraling out of control or stressed – it is almost ALWAYS because I am holding too many unprocessed thoughts in my head.

Enter journaling, specifically the "stream-of-conscious" style journaling. It helps calm my brain down, make sense of things, and reenergize my soul. And it’s truly stream of conscious: Whatever comes to my mind, I write it down.

You have to be really honest with yourself for it to be as therapeutic as it is. You can’t hold back, you can’t judge yourself, you have to write down whatever comes to your mind.

And don’t stop until you feel good. Most of my journal entries end with – in all caps and with tons of exclamation marks – a “LET’S GOOOOO!!!!!” (If anyone read my journals, they’d probably think I was crazy; most times it doesn’t make any sense. But that’s okay, because it serves its purpose for me!)

Also, if you're able, treat yourself to a nice moleskine exclusively for this purpose. Write the date, time, and where you are for each entry – doing so makes a huge difference.

On positive, inspirational influences in her life

Who's the last person who made you laugh really hard?

Rosa, on our team. Everything she says is basically standup comedy. She's famous from my instagram because of all the funny things she says! She singlehandedly gives me great Instagram content. No joke, people have recognized her in person in San Francisco just from my Instagram. I've had people who have never met her message me saying, "I think I'm in an uber pool with Rosa!"

I send her quotes to @overheardsanfrancisco and one of them – about her friend getting broken up with in a Google Doc – was one of the handle's most-liked posts.

Oh, and by the way, she's also one of the most brilliant and talented people I've ever worked with!

Who is your role model or inspiration? Why?

Sara Blakely. She’s joyful and silly and HERSELF. Follow her on instagram, just do it.

What advice do you have for others who find it difficult to make time for self-care?

Oprah has 24 hours in a day, too.

On building, growing, and leading a startup team

What’s an emotionally challenging experience you've faced when building Rupa Health?

It’s honestly the times when everything hits at once when it’s freaking emotionally challenging.

For example, just last week: We did a big pivot in the company that threw away six months of work; my grandma passed away; I had to transition my best friend out of the company; my doctor told me I am at risk for pre-diabetes (by the way, most people would consider me one of the healthiest people they know… so it was total shock), and to top it off I was in tears almost every day from growing pains with my boyfriend. In other words? Literally every component of my life – work, family, friends, relationship, health – were volatile.

And that was just one week.

It’s what I call an “emotional growth spurt”: where all of this sh*t is happening, and you feel like a teenager breaking out of her skin because you’re growing faster than feels good. But you know this ultimately is all positive because this is the stuff that makes you stronger. It builds you (#reps). I now feel stronger than ever.

And at the end of the day, it's important to remember that it’s rarely "just a work thing." Too often we forget about the other dimensions of life that can be weighing on us emotionally and make work feel stressful, when it reality, it's all of this stuff.

How can startups support their teams’ mental health in such a stressful high pressure environment?

We’re always iterating on this and I don’t think there’s any one right answer. It is super situational – depends on the team, the unique personalities, the work style, etc.  

Here are a few things we do:  

One thing I think isn’t said enough is the importance of hiring people with a highly positive attitude in the beginning. Start-up life isn’t for everyone, especially when it comes to building the founding team. We stopped “selling a picture perfect dream” and started being transparent and honest about what daily life is like at Rupa – the wins and the stress – and it’s helped us tremendously in finding the right people for our team.

How does the Rupa Health team support you?

They are the freaking best. They are so positive and upbeat, and strong on the "yes, and..." culture.

How do you give and get feedback at Rupa Health?

This is controversial, but I stopped doing weekly 1:1s a few months ago. I realized by doing 1:1s, we were creating a culture of “holding it all in until this one predetermined meeting time when we can then release all of our frustrations."

Instead, I envision a culture where feedback is the norm (even difficult, constructive feedback) and we can flow easily in and out of that during daily work.  

What I’ll do now, is make it much more casual. If we’re walking to the elevator or I catch someone in the hallway, I’ll casually ask how they are, etc.  

We’ll also do self-evaluations quarterly & set three-month goals. So each person on the team does a self evaluation, and we chat about it on a walk.

Advice for other female founders?

We’re the lucky ones – we GET to do this! Let’s not forget that :)