CTO Sessions: Dan Stevens, Stress Point Health

What has been your greatest career achievement? “… the biggest achievement for me was seeing first-hand the impact SPHERE has on people who suffer from stress anxiety and PTSD. SPHERE users opening-up and feeling reborn.”

Stress Point Health

Name: Dan Stevens

Company: Stress Point Health

Job title: CTO/Co-Founder

Date started current role: December 2017

Location: Sydney-based

Dan Stevens is the CTO and co-founder of Stress Point Health. He has over 13 years of experience in digital transformation projects, helping companies digitise by providing solutions to maximise growth. His experience includes holding positions at SocialBots, Vicisoft –ECM & BPM Solutions, IBM, ING Bank, DSB Bank and KLM, and he also founded DFMict, Propeller and Emperia Ventures. His deep technical knowledge and exemplary business acumen have allowed him to exit two international IT businesses (in the Netherlands and Australia), in high end customer engagement solutions. Stevens is passionate about utilising technology to improve people’s mental health and well-being. He has the ability to take a concept and build the entire technological infrastructure, which he has done with SPHERE - digitising Neurofeedback for the first time, leveraging technical and digital expertise to combine the latest technology with Neurofeedback science.

What was your first job? Dismantling an old printing press at the age of 14. I grew up just north of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, where most students would work in the flower fields during the school holidays. However, that was not for me. A neighbour of my parents said that his office was moving locations and they could use some extra help cleaning out the old IT equipment. Well, that was right up my alley. I was employed to move all mainframes, printers and general IT equipment. I enjoyed listening to the team during the breaks, telling me stories about the printing press from back in the day. I would sit there sipping on my hot chocolate, wide-eyed, hearing about the technology around and how they got to where they were today.  

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, I was fascinated by the power of technology. Not in a ‘geeky’ or ‘nerdy way’ per se, but in terms of how it could make people’s lives easier. IT was invented by people, for people. We should not overcomplicate it.

When I was 16, I started my own computer sales and repair service. I never understood why IT people in general were bad at offering customer service. I liked the combination of solving computer issues and helping people at the same time. Leaving customers with a smile on their face was what I got a kick out of the most.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? After high school, I studied IT hardware and software programming - focussing on computer parts and how processing power worked combined with machine coding, developing simple apps and websites. Then I did a bachelor’s in IT and Business, where I learnt how IT could support organisations and how successful implementation of a complex information system could be done in large organisations specifically. After this, I did a pre-master’s in Management Science. Whilst working, I acquired many certifications in project management and IT infrastructure, and I am currently completing the The PowerMBA.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Besides being a spare rib delivery guy in my uni days, I’ve always been in IT. As mentioned before when I was 16, I started my own company which specialised in computer service and sales. This grew into software development, where I practiced my development skills. After an internship at KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) for the selection of a new plane engine management system, I moved to the financial world. As a project manager for ING, I managed system integrations and implementations of new IT related procedures.

Then I had a serious bike accident in 2010. Whilst I was in hospital, I decided there was more to life than working 9-5 and I had big dreams to travel and live in another country. Once I had recovered enough to travel, I sold everything in the Netherlands and moved to Sydney, Australia, as a backpacker for 1 year. In the first few months I met the owner of a software development company specialising in point-of-sale solutions. I took over the business and turned it around in 2 years. After that, my then fiancée and I decided to embark on a new adventure, and we decided to more to Dubai, UAE. I founded a digital transformation company there and started focusing on web and app development with remote teams in Eastern Europe. I then met Sheena (founder of Stress Point Health) and we decided to partner; I was now following my passion while utilising my skills and experience to help people in need.  

Now I’m back in Sydney, Australia for the next chapter in life. I’m convinced that the location of IT teams is not overly important these days. Collaboration tools make it possible to recruit the best people that understand your business and IT requirements regardless of location. I must say that time-difference is a challenge sometimes.

What type of CTO are you? People-driven and solution-oriented CTO. As mentioned before, I’m not the ‘geeky’ kind of IT person. I love technology and the power it can enable, but I don’t necessarily drive the latest technology because it’s the latest gadget. IT is developed by people and therefore needs to add value to people’s day-to-day lives. That is exactly what we do with SPHERE - a digital therapy app that offers access to digitised treatment for the first time through smartphone technology. Keep it simple and use the power of technology to give access to effective treatment, which was otherwise not possible, in the simplest and most cost-efficient way.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Health monitoring tools. Not from a medical point (at this time) but as a measuring object. Take a heartbeat monitor, for instance. In my eyes it’s not a question of whether the device is 100% accurate; the goal is to monitor over a period of time and to spot trends or irregularities, and act on these by seeing the right medical professional or treatment. We should leverage data smartly to help us all live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I think wearables - not smart watches and rings per se, but single-purpose devices such as VR headsets and smart glasses - are a bit overhyped for consumer use. This is because it is essentially an extra piece of hardware that is needed in order to experience the technology fully. This doesn’t blend in with our day-to-day lives right now, and consumers are not ready for it.  Don’t get me wrong, the technology is very cool, but simply too complicated and I don’t see people carrying VR headset or smart glasses with them all day in the immediate future.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? I am pretty proud of being able to build a team of specialists and be able to have them located all around the world; I am also happy that we have been able to create an excellent culture while doing it. Some would say it is a difficult task to have people working remotely and still maintain a decent, at the very least, company culture. However, with the right tools in place and excellent leadership, I think we really excelled in this.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? The mission of Stress Point Health is to provide access to effective mental health treatment anytime, anywhere. We can only do this by using a digitised form of an evidence-based treatment, and that’s why we chose to digitise neurofeedback. Our smartphones are so powerful, that the hardware is not an issue. It’s all about the user journey: how to make a ‘offline’ treatment, as effectively, without human guidance and in full confidence.

We help companies digitise their approach towards mental health assessment and treatment. Issues of presenteeism, among others, will have a profound impact on how employers get the best out of their staff when we come out of the pandemic. Employers now have the opportunity to leverage digital therapeutics to help their most important asset, their people, address mental health challenges at work.

They need to take a holistic approach towards mental health; take a step back and evaluate why current solutions aren’t working, why the conversation is not evolving, and how we can finally move into the workplace of the future. In fact, businesses committing to help all employees achieve good mental health can benefit on a cultural level, down to financials – with an average ROI of £5 for every £1 spent, according to a Deloitte report.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Their mental wellbeing. We’re listed as an IT company, as we develop digital apps and platforms. But I see us more as a mental health treatment provider, that uses technology as a vehicle to provide a solution to the user. We happen to understand the technology that is out there, and ‘sculpture’ it in a way that it truly and meaningfully helps the user. The biggest achievement for me is when you have people being very depressed or stressed, and after a session with SPHERE, they’re feeling like they have a new lease on life, which allows them to go about their day like anyone else would. Even better if they also manage to stop or reduce reliance on medication.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We believe that good mental health is a right, not a privilege. By making a proven mental health treatment available through a smart phone, we are able to give access to the app to people who need it most - anytime, anywhere. We opened up access to the app for free to anyone during the first lockdown, enabling people to leverage the power of their smartphone, to get effective treatment. By offering digitised Neurofeedback treatment to the market for a fraction of the cost of a psychiatrist visit, we can release in part the burden on a currently stretched for resources health care system.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Not really, as we have a very core process which we digitise in the app. In this way, we use the most effective technology integration to achieve our goals.

What makes an effective tech strategy? In my eyes, an effective tech strategy is one that adds to the user experience. I believe that business goals are automatically met when the user experience is constantly being enhanced.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? I would say that it is hard to predict the future, especially following the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. However, it is interesting to note how quickly businesses of all sizes used technology to adapt to the changes. Tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard were suddenly so imperative to our everyday lives - from collaborating with co-workers to staying in touch with family and friends. Companies needed to all of a sudden move away from locally based servers and quickly go into the cloud, so that we could access everything remotely. I do not see this changing; in fact, it is going to evolve, and CTOs will need to continuously stay on top of new technologies and ensure their digital strategy is matching customer needs.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I’ve started companies in the past, grew them and sold them on. That is quite an exciting journey, but honestly the biggest achievement for me was seeing first-hand the impact SPHERE has on people who suffer from stress anxiety and PTSD. SPHERE users opening-up and feeling reborn.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? 2020 was a strange and interesting year in many aspects. As we focus on mental wellbeing, things got really interesting for us. We saw a big need for effective solutions to help people cope with the pandemic. People living alone especially, and most in lockdown are not being able to leave our homes for a certain amount of time – taking a massive toll on our mental health. We really needed to adapt to this and reassure our users that we are here for them. We didn’t want to impose ourselves too much - and I think that’s what we could have done differently, really ‘shout’ about our technology so that people get the help they need.

What are you reading now? A promised land by Barak Obama.

Most people don't know that I… Love Lego.

In my spare time, I like to…Read, especially stay on top of the news and events around the world.

Ask me to do anything but… Mow the lawn.