Hannah Lucas was excited to start her freshman year of high school. The Cumming, Georgia teen is a bright, ambitious student who looked forward to classes and meeting new friends. But then, Hannah began fainting.
It happened for the first time the second week of school, but continued for weeks. “I started fainting or passing out more and more often, and it became a thing, it become my thing, which really wasn’t a good thing to have,” Hannah tells Hypepotamus.
At one point, while waiting for diagnosis tests to return, doctors prepared Hannah’s family for the worst — possibly a tumor or even cancer. Hannah was eventually diagnosed with POTS (Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), a syndrome that causes lightheadedness, fainting and rapid heartbeat.
Because of the fainting, then 15-year-old Hannah didn’t feel entirely safe — a feeling that was exacerbated when her symptoms led to serious bullying at school. As one of only a few girls in a computer science class — and the only black student in the class — Hannah was singled out and harassed.
“It was really bad. I hated going to school because of it. So I spiraled into depression and into anxiety, really badly,” Hannah shares. She began to self-harm and contemplated even worse.
“Luckily my mom walked in on me that night and, more than anything, as she held me, I wished more than anything that I had an app where I could just press a button and alert my friends that ‘hey, Hannah’s not okay and you need to come check up on her.’”
An app idea was born. Hannah shared the idea with her brother Charlie, a middle school student and technology enthusiast who had delved into online coding and engineering courses.
“I was helpless for too long,” says Charlie. “Whenever she was passing out, I couldn’t catch her. I couldn’t drive her to the doctor, I couldn’t pay for her medication, I couldn’t do anything. So when she told me her idea, it was actually something I could do to help her.”
On that same day, Charlie began wire-framing what would eventually become the notOK app.
The app’s premise is simple — when a user feels unsafe, depressed, mentally unstable or just “not OK,” they press a button which immediately alerts five of their chosen closest contacts. The contacts get a message, “Hey, I’m not OK! Please call, text, or come find me,” along with the user’s GPS location.
If none of the contacts respond within an allotted amount of time, the user receives a message from the national crisis hotline asking if they need help.
Charlie’s coding abilities were stretched thin, so to fund the initial development of the app, Charlie and Hannah created a 15-page presentation to ask their parents for funding. They used that money to hire outside developers for the initial iOS prototype of the app, which they received on Hannah’s birthday.
“That was like, the best sweet 16 ever,” she says. notOK was approved on the App store in January of this year.
While Charlie took on the role of technical lead, Hannah began building up her business skills. She enrolled in entrepreneurship classes at Georgia Tech, recruited her mom for marketing and PR advice, and formed a company, Bug and Bee, over NotOK.
The tool spread quickly through word-of-mouth and media coverage — Hannah and Charlie’s story resonated with teens, parents and the like. To-date, notOK has more than 40,000 downloads on the app store.
Initially, Hannah and Charlie had thought they might charge for the app, but quickly decided that it should be a free resource for users. They do have a B2B model whereby organizations can purchase the app, with value-add, customizable features.
For example, a few mental health rehabilitation centers have customized the app to include their support hotline as one of the five emergency contacts in the platform, and then provide it to patients as part of their release plan.
The siblings want to sell the service to corporations as a benefit for employees, as part of their health and wellness plan. Many larger corporations already offer a mental health hotline to employees; this would be an easier way for them to access that resource.
Beyond B2B sales, the singling are focusing on getting the app translated into other languages; firstly, Spanish. Hannah shares that, in the U.S., Latinx teens have the highest rates of suicide of any population demographic.
“We understand that its not one type of person, who speaks this one language, in this one part of the world, who has this problem,” she says. “One in four people globally struggle with mental illness.”
Photos provided by the Lucas family