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Celine Tien: “Limit screen time”

Limit screen time: I say this as a hypocrite because I have trouble limiting my own screen time, but it’s something I’ve been attempting because it can so radically affect your sleep, mood, and even focus. I had the pleasure of interviewing Celine Tien. Celine is the founder and chief executive officer of Flowly. In her […]

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Limit screen time: I say this as a hypocrite because I have trouble limiting my own screen time, but it’s something I’ve been attempting because it can so radically affect your sleep, mood, and even focus.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Celine Tien. Celine is the founder and chief executive officer of Flowly. In her role, Celine leads a team focused on delivering an accessible and direct-to-consumer alternative for pain and anxiety management. Celine is also the founder of the nonprofit education-based organization: Zoom for Kids! Celine studied English and Film at Yale University.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Celine! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I grew up very aware of wellness and pain as my father was the head of Neuroradiology

at Duke University. As a result, I grew up around pancreatic cancer patients witnessing chronic pain. I had a vision to create something to reduce physical pain, anxiety, depression, and social isolation. While at Yale, I met my co-founder Julian Soros and eventually Narae Kim, an award winning designer. Together we spent hundreds of hours developing and engaging with chronic pain patients in creating Flowly — an interactive app for managing chronic pain, stress, and anxiety using virtual reality. using app for pain and anxiety. Explore interactive experiences that teach you how to regulate your nervous system through relaxation training, keep track of your progress, and share it all with a supportive community

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

Early on, we conducted case studies with chronic pain patients using the first Flowly prototype. One participant, Ken (name changed for privacy), was an African-American man in his sixties who had just left hospice and used a wheelchair. Due to a gunshot wound at age 16, Ken has had severe chronic pain and been on high opioid doses for more than fifty years. We worked with Ken for two months, administering our VR-biofeedback experiences 1–2 times a week. After two months, Ken walked into our last session himself with just a single-point cane. He had reduced his opioid usage by 50%, his blood work improved, and he even got his driver’s license back for the first time in fourteen years. Were these drastic health improvements entirely because of Flowly? Discussing with his doctors, we learned a significant takeaway: your body doesn’t work in silos. For Ken, being able to help reduce physical pain created a domino effect where he could sleep better and reduce medication use, which led to better focus, which led to him driving again, which led to him going to see his physical therapist more regularly, and so on.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the biggest and most pragmatic lessons I learned is about fundraising: connect with investors who are stage appropriate. When we were extremely early stage, we spent time with large venture funds who invested in startups ten times our size and stage. This was a waste of time. I quickly learned to focus my attention on speaking with investors who actually invested in my stage and space, and understood the needs of early-stage founders and teams.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I wouldn’t be anywhere without my mom. She is the single key to any success I’ve cultivated. I remember the day I got “waitlisted” from my dream high school. I felt rejected, devastated, and didn’t know what to do. My mom grabbed the car keys, told me to jump in, and said, “You’re going to convince them you deserve a spot in that school.” Of course, as a thirteen-year-old I was terrified (maybe more so by my mom’s determined tone), but in the car we went to the admissions office. I knocked on the admissions officer’s door, and spent the next half hour convincing her that I deserved to be at that school. A day later, the head admissions officer called me herself to tell me they had added an extra spot in the class for me. My mom recognized power in me before I did, taught me perseverance before I was mature enough to define it, and modeled grit for me with everything she did.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

1.5 billion people suffer from chronic pain globally, and the majority of pain sufferers are women who also historically have the least access to safe and alternative forms of pain management. Chronic pain is considered a bio-psycho-social disease. That means the top symptoms of pain include anxiety, depression, and even feelings of social isolation. This disproportionately affects women, especially women experiencing postpartum pain, anxiety, and depression. Flowly is a mobile platform for pain and anxiety. We teach users to control their heart rate and breathing to manage pain, anxiety, and even sleep. Our interactive experiences build on core biofeedback technology that can be done just on the phone or in VR. Flowly also includes an in-app support community. We aim to serve all physical, psychological, and even social aspects of chronic pain for those 1.5 billion people, and especially the women disproportionately affected by it.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

  1. Learn to breathe: one of the most important things I learned developing Flowly with our team of advisors, doctors, and therapists is the importance of understanding how to breathe properly. We’re taught concepts like algebra in school but never taught one of the most fundamental things we do each day: breathe. And most people do not even think about their breath.
  2. Limit screen time: I say this as a hypocrite because I have trouble limiting my own screen time, but it’s something I’ve been attempting because it can so radically affect your sleep, mood, and even focus.
  3. Read books (but actually finish them): Nowadays a lot of people out of college rely on news articles and blogs which gives you breadth of events, but with books you get depth of knowledge.
  4. Find a workout you love: this just keeps me sane to be honest.
  5. Do Flowly, and if not Flowly, find a platform that keeps you accountable to at least 5 minutes of day focusing on your health (and breath!)

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Having people learn about their nervous system and how to control it.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Honest answer is that I’m glad people didn’t tell me more before I started my company. I think if I had known more regarding the challenges of being a young female founder (and a woman of color) in tech AND health, I would be paralyzed by overthinking and all the obstacles I saw before me.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Mental health! I think all of these causes are incredibly important, but I do believe you have to take care of your mental health first to be ready and present to fight and challenge the system for other social issues.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Twitter — @officiallyflowly www.twitter.com/officialflowly

Facebook — www.facebook.com/flowlyworld

Instagram — @officiallyflowly www.instagram.com/officialflowly/

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