Search & Replace S04E10: Karin Andrea Stephan

Meet Karin Andrea Stephan, a tech entrepreneur who transformed her struggle with hustle culture into a groundbreaking solution for monitoring mental health. Faced with the relentless pace of the tech industry, Karin co-founded EarKick, an app that uses AI to measure and manage users’ mental and emotional states in real time. Listen as she shares her journey from burnout to balance, and learn how incorporating simple, actionable tools into your daily routine can significantly improve your mental well-being and productivity. This episode of Search and Replace is a must-listen for anyone looking to reclaim their mental health and harness the power of technology to live a more fulfilled life. 

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience user experience specialists at Johns & Taylor. More information follows this episode. 

[00:00:12] Joe Taylor Jr.: What if you could improve your mental health by answering just one question? I’m Joe Taylor, Jr. This is Search and Replace. 

[00:00:25] Like many people working in the technology sector, entrepreneur Karin Andrea Stephan found herself caught up in hustle culture.  

[00:00:33] Karin Stephan: We all get very busy in young years and we have all so much to live for and we run and we don’t even know why. Right? Happened to me, too.  

[00:00:44] I’m a very passionate person. I love working. But the downside of not really having a plan and just going all in is that you risk burning out. The more exciting my career and my purpose that I was pursuing became, the more self-care and work life balance, and even reflection about what I was doing was taking a backseat. You know? You say this time I’m going to be very mindful and then you skip your weekend and then you start not going to gatherings because work goes first. Right? 

[00:01:24] And this, sort of, blindly falling into the same trap every time was really not only frustrating for me, but also I kept seeing it in everyone else; in my teams, in even relatives, in people I really cared for. And I was like, why are we doing this to us?  

[00:01:45] Joe Taylor Jr.: To help answer that question? Karin started looking for data points she could measure. And she quickly realized that most people, especially Americans, don’t even try to assess their mental wellness until they’re in crisis.  

[00:01:58] Karin Stephan: We basically wait until we’re ill, or until something falls apart, and then we stop and say, okay, now what went wrong. Right? And we

keep doing that, and it’s Not good. You wouldn’t do that if you knew that you have a certain condition that you have to keep track of, let’s say diabetes or whatever. But when it comes to mental health, we’re all like, Oh yeah, it’s just gonna work out, you know, and it doesn’t.  

[00:02:23] And I realized when it comes to mental health, stress, anxiety and all that, we don’t have an objective method to measure, but we also don’t have a continuous one. 

[00:02:34] I co-founded EarKick with a very smart guy, Dr. Herbert Bay and we set out to solve two problems. First, build an AI that can measure your mental health, your stress levels, anxiety, et cetera, and your emotional life in real time. So that you can always see where you’re at, and you feel like you have agency, you’re in control. 

[00:02:59] Joe Taylor Jr.: Karin’s team started developing a tool that helped its users measure their moods and overall mental state. But some new technology allows them to go even further.  

[00:03:09] Karin Stephan: And then we built what is nowadays better known as generative AI. Basically an AI that can answer, that can validate, that can give you actionable suggestions, something that is not a book or heavy science, but something that you can do right away. 

[00:03:26] So this morning, for example, I said, Oh, I’m going to have this podcast, I’m a bit nervous, you know, a bit excited, I hope I slept enough, et cetera. So I kept chatting away and it then analyzes what I said, how I said it, and then it prefills automatically my journal. So I will find not only what I said, but also everything that the AI detected. 

[00:03:50] Joe Taylor Jr.: And all that work has also led Karin to some new realizations about what it means to lead a technology team, with a mission statement that prioritizes mental wellness.  

[00:04:00] Karin Stephan: You can’t be working your team to the bone. You have to be a role model. And the good thing is, because you’re aware of that, you also reap the benefits. You can’t be a mental health tech company and put mental health last. That’s just not going to work.  

[00:04:16] It has made me a more reflective person. Someone who treasures the moment more than the past or the future. You are more productive; you are way better in negotiations and in all the critical strategies of business and of startups when you put mental health and self-care first. You will last longer, you may not be the loudest in the room, but you will still be sharp and awake. And grateful for your life and enjoying the ride when everyone else is burned out.  

[00:04:49] Joe Taylor Jr.: Karin’s got some advice that might sound counterintuitive to many of her Silicon Valley neighbors. 

[00:04:54] Karin Stephan: Try small steps, hold yourself accountable. Be nice to yourself take time for good things that bring you joy. And then slowly but surely you will get into the habit of putting yourself, your health, your mental and physical health, before some craze, before some hustler dream. You are the owner of your life. 

[00:05:17] It may not be the perfect life, but you are the owner and you can make decisions, you can have agency. Start building and start being the change that you want to see in the world. And you will have the same as I, you wake up in the morning and you know why. And you get something back, maybe not right away, but it will come back 10,000 fold. 

[00:05:40] Joe Taylor Jr.: That’s Karin Andrea Stephan, co-founder of the wellness app, EarKick.  

[00:05:46] In our show notes for this episode, mental health advocates agree that AI models shouldn’t take the place of trained therapists, but they also recognize that many Americans might not have a better option to turn to.  

[00:05:59] CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook spoke to research psychologist Alison Darcy about the reasons we might try an AI therapy chatbot. Access, cost, and getting past the perceived stigma of seeing a therapist are high on that list.  

[00:06:16] Plus, Stanford professor and author BJ Fogg recently launched a free five-day program that follows the research he published in his book, Tiny Habits. Every Monday morning, participants can start a five-day cycle of replacing bad habits with new supportive routines, with guidance from a human coach.  

[00:06:36] We’ve got those links and more in our show notes and on our website. At 

[00:06:42] Search and Replace was produced by Nicole Hubbard, with support from Connie Evans, Amelia Lohmann, April Smith, and Podcast Taxi executive producer, Lori Taylor. Our theme music was composed by Alex ReFire. I’m Joe Taylor, Jr. 

[00:07:05] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. 

[00:07:09] Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns & Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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