“Identify the overlap between what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. Work your way back from that.”
Sam Frons is the founder and CEO of Addicaid, an A.I-enhanced behavior change company that helps people, businesses and organizations make the best decisions to combat addiction. Addicaid has won awards from Harvard Business and Medical School, NYC Economic Development Corporation, and is named one of the top 10 analytics solutions of 2017 by Healthcare Tech Outlook magazine.
What inspired you to start Addicaid? Loneliness and a missed bipolar diagnosis that repeatedly drove me to drugs, debt, and dysfunctional relationships. Eventually, my parents tricked me into a 28-day rehab. The aftercare program was a ‘Living Sober’ brochure written in Comic Sans. It emphasized four things– go to meetings, get a sponsor, make new friends, and do the steps. Even in addiction-addled NYC with 24 hour support groups of all kinds, good ones were hard to find. I met my sponsor at an AA meeting I found by chance down the street– the crowd beneath a smokers’ cloud in front of a church basement entryway was the dead giveaway. One night, my sponsor broke down, went out, got drunk, and chopped off her hand; she was never heard from again.
The trauma still fresh, I tried to make AA friends; it was a futile attempt thwarted by ideological friction. Those teetotalers believed the only way to stay safe was with self-proclaimed powerlessness and submitting oneself to a higher power. I believed in scientific evidence and situational factors that fuel destructive behavior patterns. Despondence reconnected me with the fun-loving enablers of my half-comatose past. They may have missed my antics. I really missed their applauses, so much that I was longer dry; I got carried away in a fog, back to a rehab called Mountainside. After my second inpatient exit, I found a therapist, went on meds, and made well-adjusted friends with whom I now practice responsible indulgence. It was an honest and pleasant life, but my deep-seated need be respected and accepted by 12-step adherents and skeptics would not let up. I envisioned an app for addicts, misusers and codependents of all kinds, something they could use however they like. The first iteration of that was a hackathon-winning meeting finder with an online community and CBT-based content on the side.
Treatment centers began sending portal requests once they got wind of Addicaid from their clients. Incidentally, the internal admin tools we created out of necessity to moderate the community was the MVP of our B2B2C platform. It’s still early, but Addicaid is already recognized as one of the Most Valuable Players in the behavioral healthcare analytics space. Now, we’re thinking a bit more ahead of the curve with novel strategies to further curb addiction, help clinicians, and make medication prescriptions more predictive.
Biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur? Communication. I’ve learned over time how to let other people speak, to listen and hone in on the most important information. After many frustrating interactions that left me feeling as if I were speaking my own language, I began training myself to replace unrelenting diatribes with thoughtful exchanges and respond in the form of questions.
Biggest success to date?
Communication. Getting to the inflection point where I could effectively collaborate with experts in fields outside of my wheelhouse in order to fulfill the vision of the kind of Addicaid the world needs. Just like you can’t stay sober in solitude or karate without an adversary, you can’t grow a complex company without a talented team! Large corporations, healthcare providers and self-destructive decision-makers around the world are reaching out because they recognize Addicaid as the most promising solution to their myriad problems. Based on our pilot outcomes, statistical analysis and recognition, people seem to be keen on what we’ve launched to date.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs? For those with a detailed initial idea of what to pursue: Plan it with your hands. I used a marble notebook and whiteboard wall. You use whatever you want– iPad, Moleskine, oversized paper or a scroll. Make it functional. Present it at hackathons. Submit it to competitions. Put yourself in situations where you will meet people of substance with collaborative potential. Make a master document of what your vision is. Explore all the different routes you can take to surpass those milestones. Update it constantly. This dossier is your hub for the written applications you will submit and the due diligence you will be subjected to.
For those still in pursuit of what to do:Identify the overlap between what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. Work your way back from that. Another option is to create what you wish would exist, plausibility and expertise be damned! However far-fetched the idea, technology will catch up to it (2 – 5 years is a good ballpark). Bet a lump sum of your life on it. It’s like they say: If you spare no expense, then life…uh…finds a way.
Dually applicable advice:Advance your knowledge in the field, enrich your personal and professional social circles. Identify promising people and talk to them. While you’re at it, get rid of any toxic relationships and unnecessary losers in your life. And relish the competition. There’s more than enough market to go around if you’re looking in the right place with an on-point idea. No innovation exists in a vacuum. Most of the time, openness beats secretiveness, even if you’re paranoid about someone “stealing your idea.”
Who are your role models? Bucky Fuller, Hedy Lamarr, Amelia Earhart & Ray Kurzweil. And a sincere shout out to my parents, Marc & Merry. My dad successfully weds his passion for writing, technology and home improvement (I inherited them all). My mom’s CV includes fashion photography, small business ownership, an LCSW and later-in-life addiction-centric PhD, along with 20 years in recovery.
If you could go back in time, what’s one tip you’d give your teenage self? I’d give her 3, bare minimum’: 1) Self tip: Write more poetry/prose/code; 2) Social tip: Ask others about their hangups and aspirations; 3) Stock tip: Amazon.
Flats, heels or kicks? Convertible flat-heel kicks.
What do you do when you’re not working? Watch Golden Age TV and optimistic early 90s sci-fi series, make Spotify playlists, bond with willing Airbnb guests, play pub sports, explore areas of interest, art, fraternize in fresh air & exercise (plyometric calisthenic & reflex workout training is my thing). I am a hoarder-turned-collector of objects of all sorts (Objects of All Sorts also happens to be a great book I own) and I enjoy continually evolving my living space so that it keeps me effective, happy, and sane. And when it’s time to run to the office, I pump myself up by fantasizing about what awaits me in the 2020s.
Best work-life hack? Waking up refreshed, relieved, and cheerful. No good will come from being tired and miserable. I do this by relishing the moments before I drift into REM as an opportunity to set my intention for the next day and delegate the initial stages of making difficult decisions to my unconscious self. At the end of the day, just do what you need to do to start your morning with a clear agenda and aim to reduce the number of choices you must make. Decision fatigue can be a real personal/professional performance killer. Do what you can to automate your life to make more time for what cannot yet be automated.
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