Meet the Gen Z founders who created a music app to help combat pandemic-induced anxiety and depression

Two men in gray shirts hold up cell phones
(L) Travis Chen and (R) Brian Femminella
  • Travis Chen and Brian Femminella are the founders of the mental health app SoundMind.
  • The duo felt there was a lack of reliable mental health resources that could help people during the pandemic. 
  • This is part of Insider's entrepreneur series Star, Rising which highlights early entrepreneurs.

Name: Travis Chen and Brian Femminella 

Age: 22 and 21

Location: Seattle, Washington; Los Angeles, California  

Business: SoundMind, a music therapy app designed for those experiencing trauma, depression, and anxiety.

Backstory: The pandemic created a mental health crisis: People were isolated from others, while massive death tolls were broadcast across the news. Nurses and doctors dealt with unprecedented patient overflow in the hospitals, while families watched funerals on YouTube.

Travis Chen and Brian Femminella felt there was a lack of reliable mental health tech resources that could help with such levels of stress and trauma, so they launched the therapy app SoundMind in November of this year. The app uses music, created by an in-house composer team, to help reduce anxiety. It also directly connects users with useful resources, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

"It not only was critical to start a tech app but to start building a community that is a lasting movement for people to be inspired by and hold onto, especially when times are tough," Femminella told Insider. 

Product imagery of the app SoundMind
Growth: SoundMind's launch party at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles was attended by actors like Jennings Brower, who has 3.4 million followers on TikTok, and Matthew Dennis Lewis, who starred in Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit." 

To date, SoundMind has raised six figures in pre-seed funding, but the round will officially close in December. It also has corporate partnerships with organizations such as therapy service Okay Humans and digital business card company Popl to host mental health-related collaborations and events. Next year, SoundMind will launch a creators platform to commission artists, such as musician Nick Tangorra, who will create music specifically for the company. 

Before SoundMind: Chen graduated from the University of Southern California in 2021, and Fremminella is finishing up his senior year at the same university. Previously, both were legislative interns on Capitol Hill and for the past four years, Femminella has served in the US Army reserves. Fremminella also worked at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies on the artificial intelligence research and development team.  

Challenges: Both founders had to deal with investors questioning their young ages. Additionally, Femminella, who is openly gay, learned how to fully embrace his sexuality rather than hide it from backers. Meanwhile, Chen had to convince others of the importance of taking Asian-American mental health seriously.

A group of people stand wearing a white shirt smiling to the camera
Team photo of SoundMind

Business Advice: "You are going to fall down, but it is how you get back up and continue to build — with the knowledge you learned from past mistakes — that showcases who you truly are," Femminella said. 

Business Mentor: Femminella counts Dr. Scott B. Spencer of USC's Thornton school of music as someone who's helped him conduct research for the app. Chen leans on his 89-year-old grandfather, who taught him the importance of giving back. 

Why now is the best time to start a business: The pandemic helped push people to pursue their passions more, Chen said. "It's the prime time to do everything you can, eventually find what you love doing, and who you like doing it with," Chen added. 

On hiring: They currently have five full-time people on staff, including the two people on the in-house composer team. SoundMind plans to double the company's staff by the end of 2022.

On managing burnout: Chen spends time with his family and friends, and enjoys hiking. Femminella takes long breaks away from social media and loves SoulCycle. "I like to skydive, crazy right?" he added. It's "to really see the world and hear nothing but the air and the sound of the parachute as a way to reset my mind."

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