Join UPWARD for a remarkable wine-tasting and networking event “Raise A Glass To Women“on May 2nd

Denise Shiffman

Denise Shiffman, UPWARD Bay Area Chapter Member

Preethi Narayanan is an UPWARD Bay Area Chapter Member and Founder & Chief Executive Officer at GroupWell, Inc.a provider of online group therapy services by licensed therapists.

GroupWell transforms mental healthcare by combining online group therapy with analytics to deliver personalized, relationship-centered care. The pandemic has made most people aware of the negative mental health impacts of social isolation and loneliness which has increased the need for mental health services that incorporate social connection, social intelligence, and inter-relationship skills as part of the treatment. Therapy and wellness groups cover everything from anxiety, depression, chronic illness, and grief and loss to parenting, life transitions, and trauma.

Learn even more about Denise by reading below and connect with her right here in our My UPWARD Online Community!

Describe your career, your platform, or what makes you you?

I grew up shy and introverted. I would sit quietly and listen to and watch people, learning to read body language and incongruous behavior. I then studied sociology and organizational behavior in undergrad and graduate school where my interest in what makes people and groups tick was piqued. It also developed in me a deep sense of empathy. Empathy has been my superpower when it comes to building products that customers love and engaging customers with impactful marketing. Throughout my career as an executive in both multi-billion dollar tech companies and early-stage startups, I’ve been able to create highly impactful products and services.

A few years ago, I was suffering from chronic anxiety. My therapist referred me to group therapy. That set me on a path of discovery and the challenges with finding and joining a group. It inspired me to found GroupWell.

Do you have any habits or disciplines that you’ve developed that helps keep you motivated?

I’m passionate about our mission at GroupWell so I can easily immerse myself in the work. It’s great to have a high level of concentration but my most important new habit is to take micro-breaks several times a day to make sure I get up and move around and switch gears to give my mind and body a break. Since I work from home, these can be quick and simple breaks like walking into the backyard for a few minutes with a cup of tea or washing the dishes. But the most important activity I’ve built into my schedule every single morning is exercise. It’s absolutely the best thing I can do for myself.

What are you most proud of in your personal life and in your career?

I love to learn and try new things but I am most proud of my ability to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I did this when I left home and crossed the country to go to college, and again when I left a highly successful career in tech to join a $45 billion healthcare company to lead digital transformation, and again when I started GroupWell from a blank sheet of paper during personal challenges with anxiety.

We know from data that no one advances completely on their own. Relationships are often the difference between getting noticed and promoted and getting stuck. How do you identify key individuals with whom you need to build strategic relationships? Has UPWARD been a platform to helping you build these necessary relationships?

The most critical thing I had to learn (and that I learned late in life) is that you have to ask for help. It creates a mutually beneficial relationship that can grow into a strong partnership. Needing other people isn’t weakness, it’s empowering. HiPower has been central to my journey to a startup founder and CEO. Without the support and confidence these relationships have given me, I might not have taken the leap.

As an UPWARD Member, what experience(s) have been most beneficial for you?

Anytime I can connect face-to-face with other women working to achieve more in their careers, I’m in the right place. I learn so much from others, but I also get so much out of helping other women. The HiPower program was an amazing experience. My ring members really connected with each other and we’ve been meeting regularly for several years supporting each other, providing connections, and most importantly friendship.

What advice have you received that has helped drive you to where you are today? If you’re comfortable, please share where this advice came from.

A VP I worked for many years ago once said to me, “when you talk people listen”. It was the biggest compliment I had ever received and for the first time, I truly felt like all of my hard work was valued. It also taught me that my words mattered and that I should choose them carefully.

What advice (2-3 things) would you share with others who have similar goals or is on a similar path as you?

Founding and running a company has many highs and lows along the way. Make sure you have a support group to bolster you during the tough times and to cheer you on when all is going well. They also need to be the people who will tell you the ugly truths you need to hear. One of my favorite sayings is “no pressure, no diamonds” to remind myself that the path I chose is hard for a reason. If it were easy, everyone else would be doing it. When I feel the stress, I know it’s because GroupWell’s mission is so important to me and I’m driving towards having a huge impact on people who need help.

Do you have a favorite inspirational/motivational quote that you’d like to share? 

It’s not so much a quote, but someone said to me, “Share your story openly and authentically. It helps other people know they are not alone in their experience.” I took that advice and started telling my story about chronic anxiety — something I previously never would have shared. Now I find that friends, strangers, and even investors share their very personal stories with me. It helps create a deeper and more meaningful connection. It’s so important to know we are not alone in our suffering and that connection helps us on our path to health and happiness.

When you’re not in “work mode”, attending calls/meetings, what would we find you doing?

Running, hiking, walking the dog, cooking, gardening, traveling to exotic places, and eating out with friends.

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