Focus on Founders: An Interview with Johanne Schwensen

By Stephanie von Behr | Interview

In this interview we talk to Johanne Schwensen, CEO of It’s Complicated, extroverted entrepreneur, mother of two, ex-techno DJ and practicing psychologist. 

How many co-founders do you have?

We are four. Two therapists who came up with the idea and two developers who we got on board with the idea, actually just through meeting over lunch one day. Their web agency is on the floor above our therapist practice, so our founding team is very much the product of convenience and maybe even, to use a Jungian term, synchronicity!

Johanne with Co-founder Jakob Lusensky

Where are you from?

Copenhagen

How long ago did you start your company?

End of 2017. The idea came during  conversations with two of the people I’m closest with – my husband, Jesper, and my business partner, Jakob. We were sharing our frustrations about the user-unfriendliness of the therapist directories available to us and then the idea started brewing. Initially, we wanted my husband, who is a software developer, to build the platform for us, but he joined a web-agency and unfortunately didn’t have the time.

Why or what made you want to start a company? Did you have an Aha! moment?

It came out of a simple need to please! Most therapists are inherently people-pleasing and so Jakob and I hated that we couldn’t say yes to all of the therapists who wanted to work with us at Mittelweg 50. It also pained us that we couldn’t match all of the client referrals we received with appropriate therapists, because the therapists working with us already had full practices. When It’s Complicated went live, we were finally able to give the therapists and therapy-seekers who contacted us the help they needed. We weren’t restricted to our brick-and-mortar practice, but could build and grow a supportive and diverse community and online marketplace for therapists.

What are some lessons you have learned so far in your entrepreneurial journey?

A lot of patience and agility is required. You have to be prepared to have your mind changed constantly. For instance, I initially assumed that therapists’ biggest concern and need is getting more clients, but by talking to my therapist colleagues and conducting polls I found out that they were just like me – they regarded community over anything else.

Who are some of your mentors?

They can be real people in your life or people whose careers you follow and have benefited from by reading their words, watching their journey, etc.

Esther Perel. I believe her to be one of the smartest psychotherapists out there. And she is also very entrepreneurial and brand savvy.

If you could invite any 6 people to a dinner party who would they be?

Rachel Cusk, Sally Rooney, Ali Wong, Hannah Gadsby, Ricky Gervais, and Larry David. We’d have a dark, enriching and hilarious time together.

Who is the first person you call when you have bad news and who do you call with good news?

My mom for both, since I compulsively share everything with her. But my dad is a close runner-up and if I would be in closer proximity to him (they live in Denmark and are divorced) I’d actually call him first for news that warranted celebration, since he has better taste in champagne, and knows where to go for oysters.

What role does failure play in being a successful entrepreneur?

It’s hard to elaborate on the relationship between entrepreneurial success and failure without sounding like a total cliché, since the two concepts are just so integral to each other and have been explored in one Ted-talk and entrepreneurship book after the other. Having said that I guess the cliff notes go something like this: You have to embrace the risk of failure to be able to accomplish things that are innovative. You also have to be able to quickly admit failure and put the learnings that failing has given you into good use.

What are the common qualities of successful entrepreneurs?

I would say empathetic, humble, socially aware, curious, and people-pleasing.

How has being a parent affected the way you look at the world and your purpose?

Being a parent makes me more socially conscious and better at calling out bullshit, in the form of patriarchal traditions and other unjust structures. My girls give me drive and perspective, and while they can rile me up by being incredibly whiny and annoying, they’re also able to ground me on a daily basis. They are like forced lessons in mindfulness.

Johanne with Nola

What books are you reading right now?

I’m always tandem reading, so currently it’s Rachel Cusk’s Coventry and Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.

Favorite new music?

The Ethiopian taxi driver and jazz legend Hailu Mergia’s newest album Yene Mircha.

Watch or listen to anything you would like to recommend?

I’m currently watching the sci-fi series Devs. But I also just saw that there’s a new season of Working Moms, so that’s up next.  And because I’m so new to the startup world I’m having fun listening to the Gimlet podcast The Pitch. It’s really well-produced and fun!

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  

I’m an extrovert in every single way. Growing up, my parents constantly exposed me to novel situations and new people. Parties and social gatherings were a big part of my upbringing.

What is your superpower?

Making people feel heard, seen, and understood.

Can you recall a story from childhood that you feel foreshadowed your current entrepreneurial journey?

Throughout my childhood, we moved every 2 years on average, and I’ve lived abroad for most of my life. When I was in the second grade, my parents moved us to Riyadh where we had to attend an American International School. I vividly remember not speaking a word of English and being dropped into a playground full of kids I so badly wanted to play with, but without having the language skills to communicate. Overcoming this challenge and experiencing how far an overall friendly demeanor, curiosity and willingness can get you was a significant learning experience that has shaped my approach to life.

Pick a genre of music that describes your life as a founder.

Shoegazing and Afrobeat.

If you weren’t founding a company, what would you be doing?

I would probably be doing more therapy sessions and be writing a book of fiction or a collection of essays.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

My youngest daughter (she’s an early riser) and the humming of my husband’s espresso machine. And if I’m really lucky, the smell of my husband’s morning bread. 

How do you define a ‘good day’ as a founder?

A day with positive user feedback, meeting with someone new and inspirational, the deployment of a new platform feature that I can use as a therapist, and where I also create and publish some therapeutic or otherwise useful content.

How did you come up with the name for your company?

It came to my business partner and BFF, Jakob, in a dream. Besides being an entrepreneur, he is a Jungian Analyst and I would call him a low-key mystic or prophet, although I’ve never told him this, and he probably wouldn’t agree to these labels. But it seems like he foresees things in his dreams, and has many more epiphanies than the average person, so that’s how I secretly see him.

What’s your ideal relaxation activity?

A massage. Going to Vabali. White wine and Netflix also helps me unwind.

Tell us something we wouldn’t know about you from reading your CV.

While I studied and trained to become a psychologist I was a techno DJ and freelanced as a music journalist. I basically made a living from partying, reading and writing for six years. Those were my care-free, golden days!

Johanne DJ’ing at the Roskilde Festival 2010

What was your first job ever?

I babysat 3 kids when I was 11 or 12 years old, and I remember the youngest wet his bed, which made me feel like I had failed so badly at the job.

What is something fun/ unique/ embarrassing about you?

When I was 14, without my parents’ knowledge, I got a secret, “sexy” tattoo of a swallow really close to my crotch. This was before I had even kissed a boy. I just went into a dodgy tattoo parlor in Buenos Aires and got it, because I wanted to have a secret. Then I forgot I had it and walked butt-naked out of the shower one day and my mother saw it and she was so mortified that she started crying.

Anything else you want to tell us about?

I am a scorpio in Sun, Moon, Mercury and Pluto, i.e I’m a quadruple scorpio!  And I can’t burp. As in, I don’t know how to. I think the physiological mechanism in my throat is missing.

Johanne Schwensen is currently funded by The Berlin Founders Fund.