Han Dirkx is passionate about mental well-being and the desire to create a stress-free society for everyone. He firmly believes inner peace creates outer peace: when you feel well mentally, not only do you benefit, but so do the people – and the world – around you. That’s why he started AlphaBeats, a health tech startup that uses neurofeedback technology and the user’s music to reduce stress. Through AlphaBeats, he has embarked upon a new journey to transport people to “alpha mode.”
Han sat down with us recently to answer a few questions about AlphaBeats, his role as CEO, thoughts on diversity in startups and the differences between American and Dutch companies.
Did you ever picture yourself as a CEO?
No, I didn't really see myself as CEO. I also didn't really have the ambition to become a CEO, but that’s what it’s like with small companies. Each person does what they need to do to help the company grow. What I like is to do new things, and being a CEO was completely new for me, especially being a CEO of a health tech company. But it’s an adventure, so why not? I am not afraid of doing new things and that means sometimes you fall really hard. But on the other hand, if you are afraid of making mistakes, you will never experience the great things we [entrepreneurs] experience. That's the great up-side of just going for something.
Being a CEO was completely new for me, especially being a CEO of a health tech company. But it’s an adventure, so why not? I'm not afraid of doing new things, and that means sometimes you fall really hard. But on the other hand, if you are afraid of making mistakes, you will never experience the great things we [entrepreneurs] experience. That's the great up-side of just going for something.
At a certain moment, we had to decide who would be the CEO. The whole team said, “Okay, we think Han is the most appropriate person for that, for the moment.” And that's also how I looked at it: I was the most appropriate person at that moment, and the nice thing is, I like it and still grow every day. Just like life, startups are kind of organic.
What is your view on diversity, particularly in the startup world?
There is a lot of diversity in society, in the world around us, but what you see is that a lot of things are moving in the wrong direction because people don't understand each other anymore ... and not only men and women, but diversity on different levels. I think if you want to bring great innovative solutions to the market, you need a good “sample” of society. Half of the people on this earth are women and half are men, so it's really ridiculous that we don't see that same ratio in companies.
So, yes, I believe in diversity in teams. I believe you should hire the best person for the job, but I also believe that to make progress, we need initiatives from governments and from organizations like Fe+male Tech Heroes and InspiringFifty that will push women to the front. We need women, and we need people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, not just fat, old white men in our companies.
Diversity between ages is also very important, because you mustn’t only have young people or older people in teams. It’s better to have a nice balance, and I think we have that balance of society in our team. Personally, I don't like male-dominated things, dominating cultures. I prefer a more female-dominant culture. But that's a personal note. I'm a bit more focused on the soft side than on the hard side.
You put out a call to attract females to test the AlphaBeats app. Data collection is often biased toward men, so why is it important for AlphaBeats to include data from female beta testers?
For the moment, we are not making the differentiation between male or female. I admit you want data which reflects the difference between male and female, but we haven’t analyzed that yet. What we do know is if you look at the mental self-care industry, a broader view of the available services and apps such as Calm or Headspace, but also yoga classes, meditation classes, then we see females are overrepresented in our data.
I think men are a little bit behind in this sphere, because for women, it's already quite normal to say, “Okay, I'm feeling a little bit stressed right now, so I'm going for a yoga session this afternoon.” So, I think we men are still lagging behind women and we need to include these routines to improve our mental well-being. But if you look at the AlphaBeats app, it's kind of gender-neutral at the moment. We have been focusing on general UX. Of course, in time we will need to decide if we need to make any differentiation in the UX for men or women. Right now, we are focusing on the artificial intelligence, which makes it possible to show personal preferences and to make personalized music recommendations.
You just returned from CES in Las Vegas. What is your take on the American startup ecosystem?
I think diversity is kind of a buzz word at the moment. “Impact” and “diversity,” you hear those a lot. I think in America, it’s more common that you have women in top positions. So, they have more opportunity there today. In the Netherlands, it’s still expected that a woman will become a mother and will take care of the family first because that’s a priority.
In America, it appears to me that it's more normal that women can say, “Now I'm a mother, but also I'm a CEO.” So, that means I'm also working 24 hours a day, in addition to managing the family’s affairs. But maybe her husband is taking care of that, or she gets help from a nanny. So, it’s more common for females to be in top positions because they feel they have the same privileges as men. You still can have kids, but that doesn't mean women have to stay home and take care of the kids. And that's still something you see in the Netherlands.
But luckily there is a good possibility in the future that our daughters will become top business leaders. That's what my father-in-law, who is over 80 – and a really smart guy – says when you ask him what he's proud of. He says: “I'm really proud that I made three daughters and they are really self-sufficient, depending only on themselves, so they can stand on their own.” I think that's good, you know. The next step is that we accept a society where women can have top positions along with being a mom and dads who also take responsibility for the home. This should be the norm. It should happen sooner rather than later.
But on the other hand, being a dad or mom is not less than being a CEO. Being yourself and doing what you like to do the most makes true heroes.