For this installment of my Women’s Empowerment Series, I had the honor of interviewing Amanda Johnstone, Founding CEO, Transhuman Inc. Amanda’s entrepreneurial track record led her to empower the world with her award-winning suicide prevention app Be a Looper. Listed as Time’s 2019 Next Gen Leader and CEO magazine’s 2020 Startup Executive of the Year, Amanda continues to inspire and create solutions in spaces that seldom gets attention. Her impact extends beyond providing hope and lending voice to those that are voiceless, it closes the gaps for the most vulnerable among us.
Your career is so fascinating and inspiring. Tell us about your career trajectory?
Growing up as the youngest child in a working-class family in regional Tasmania, I began to embrace my entrepreneurial spirit at 6. Fed up with eating plain white vegemite sandwiches for lunch each day, I sold homemade crafts to other school kids to finance my sweet tooth at the school canteen – buying ice creams and treats for all of my friends with the profits.
At 18, after co-financing and co-founding a successful retail chain in Tasmania, I was left at a crossroads. I had experienced success, acclaim and mentorship at a young age in retail, but a human element was missing.
Following the loss of some of my friends to suicide, I completed training in suicide prevention, leading to me managing a suicide prevention retreat for young people.
Fast forward to 2015, living in Vaucluse, Australia – alongside a notorious suicide hotspot, “The Gap” – where I would hear the police rescue and helicopters multiple times each week retrieving the bodies of those who had given up hope. I knew I had to take action to help. I decided to turn an SMS check-in method I used to care for friends who were battling depression into an app, recruiting some of the leading public health services and professionals in the world.
The result: a world first, award-winning daily check-in and peer support app which now prevents suicides in 87 countries.
What are you currently working on?
My complete passionate life purpose is to provide access to care for those who don’t feel they deserve a place in the world, by modeling vulnerability. My work and personal life enable me to live that into action.
Work-wise, my team at Transhuman Inc are highly focused on EmotionAI and the Internet of Bodies. We are in stealth partnership with the leading content company in the world and launching this year. Since 2107, we have been harnessing the power of mobile phones to build community surrounding those most vulnerable, via our free award-winning daily check-in app, Be A Looper.
Be a Looper is a daily peer support mental health app in 87 countries.
Personally, I’m expanding my responsibilities in leadership. In 2020 I took a lot of time to study the foundations of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. I also hyper-accelerated my learning in ethics, justice, intersectionality and inclusion.
I have a great sense of pride to sit on the Advisory Board of ESGtech and the Tech Ready Women Academy and Industry Advisory for the University of Technology Sydney, using my experience in entrepreneurism and social impact to pay it forward.
This year, I’m committed to creating and amplifying technical solutions to empower people of all identity markers, including but not limited to: physical abilities, neurodiversity, age, ableism, size, gender, faith, race, geography (nationality), technical fluency, internet access, class, family structure, language, education and sexual orientation, I am proudly rolling out some work in that field this year with one of the leading peak bodies.
What tips would you offer to those that are interested in the field?
Seek mentorship from people who have paved the way before you. Learn from others. Fail fast. Study. Read books. Ask questions. There are also lots of great (and often free) courses over at Coursera and EDX, where you can dip your toes into subjects to learn more.
I’ve been enjoying the app Clubhouse, where there is access to many industry leaders.
It’s been useful to bounce around ideas and thought leadership and also to draw on unique experiences and evidence bases to create solutions to some of the world’s greatest problems, hand in hand with the people who have the power to solve them.
How do you create work-life balance?
Psychologically, I’ve never viewed my work as a ‘job’. It’s an honor to be able to do the work I do and to lead an incredible team of experts (ex Apple, Google, IBM etc) as we change the face of one of the largest causes of disability in the world – mental ill health. As a highly curious problem solver, I find great joy in learning from my team.
Physically, I am a meditator and spending time being in nature each day is important to me for my well being. I also have an active social life and spend time with friends, family and exploring the arts (music, writing, theatre etc). Travel and exploration are also vital to me to create moments of serendipity.
Can you share some tips on how to cultivate it in our own lives?
Being aware. Popping the sneakers on. Turning the devices off. Scheduling in downtime in the calendar and investing emotionally and financially in moments of joy.
How do define relationship success?
An intimate relationship where both people (friends, lovers, family members) feel valued, safe, equal, respected, heard and loved.
What would you tell your younger self?
I’m going to flip this question on its head. I actually would take advice now from my younger self. Younger Amanda…ahh she was courageous, unstoppable, fearless, fun, energetic, moral and kind. Young Amanda was a firecracker and had no limitations when it came to being the doer of good deeds and business. As we get older, we can become rusty, the knocks of life can begin to eat away at us. I remember young Amanda and her vision and hopes for a better world and it reminds me of the goals and ambitions I’d always had and the adversity I had to overcome to get to where I am now, and all the rust dissolves!