Chris Wang, CEO of Shimmer: Supporting Adult ADHD in the Workplace

“ADHD is not about a deficit of attention. It is about the inability to control that attention.”

– Chris Wang

What do the great talents Simone Biles, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson have in common? They – along with many other incredible minds and highly successful people – have all been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). 

Yet, ADHD gets a bad rap – especially in the workplace. From experience, we know that professionals with ADHD encounter challenges with hiring processes and assessments, and can be overlooked for promotions – despite their immense talents and capabilities. This week on the podcast, we talk to Chris Wang, co-founder and CEO of Shimmer, an ADHD coaching platform for adults. 

Debbie & Chris dig into:

✓ the main ADHD misconceptions that add to the stigma and bias
✓ The 3 main challenges folks with ADHD face at work
✓ Shimmers commitment to the understanding of ADHD and offering culturally responsive coaching that focuses on empowerment and holistic well-being.

About our guest, Chris Wang:

Chris Wang is co-founder and CEO of Shimmer, which is an ADHD coaching platform for Adults – and which, a few months ago, raised their seed funding round.

Chris was previously a design thinking consultant with The Berkeley Innovation Group, a venture fellow with Berkeley SkyDeck, a consultant with Value for Good, and she worked for several years at Bain & Company. She has an MBA (Haas school of business), as well as a Masters in Public Health; she’s a YC alumn, and noted in the Forbes 30 under 30 list. She has also been diagnosed – only quite recently – as having ADHD. 

Helpful Links:

Free ADHD in the Workplace Guide Chris shared
Follow Chris on LinkedIn

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Open for Full Episode Transcript

[00:00:01] Debbie Goodman: Welcome to On Work and Revolution, where we talk about what’s shaking up in the world of work and edtech. I’m your host, Debbie Goodman. I’m CEO of Jack Hammer Global, a global group of executive search and leadership coaching companies. I’m also an advisor to venture backed edtech founders. And for those of you in edtech who are hiring, we have launched a fractional leaders offering. I’ll put the link in the show notes. My main mission with on All of my work is to help companies and leaders and people to create amazing workplaces where everyone and their ideas can flourish and thrive. So I’m really, really thrilled to have Chris Wang as my guest today. Chris is co founder and CEO of Shimmer, which is an ADHD coaching platform for adults and which a few months ago raised their seed funding round. Chris was previously a design thinking consultant with the Berkeley Innovation group, a venture fellow with Berkeley SkyDeck, a consultant with Value for Good and she worked for several years at Bain & Company. She has an MBA, Haas school of business, as well as a Masters in Public Health. She’s a YC alumn, that’s a pretty awesome pedigree, and noted in the Forbes 30 under 30 list. She has also been diagnosed quite recently as having ADHD and today I’m going to be talking to Chris and hopefully getting a lot more educated about ADHD in adults, how this manifests in the workplace and at home and life in general, and how Shimmer fits in to support this kind of neurodiversity. Welcome Chris.

[00:01:42] Chris Wang: Thank you so much for that kind introduction and for having me. I’m excited for this.

[00:01:47] Debbie Goodman: Okay, great. Well, let’s start kind of at the beginning, really, which is to try and understand and explain to listeners who might not have a really good appreciation of what ADHD is because the label itself incorporates the words deficit and disorder, which seems to indicate that this is some kind of disability, but how do you see it?

[00:02:11] Chris Wang: Great question. So I guess to start off ADHD is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. So yes, it has those words in it. I personally, along with much of the community, if we break it apart, don’t really agree with the first part which is the attention deficit. It really is not about a deficit of attention. It is about the inability to control that attention. So sometimes we have a lot of attention and sometimes we don’t have as much attention. So we may have heard words like hyper focus is when we get sucked into something that we’re interested in and we have all of the attention in the world on this one item more so than neurotypical folks often can get into versus other times we are really just unable to focus on the thing that’s in front of us for a variety of reasons and end up being very scattered, distracted, being pulled by our various thoughts. And that’s when you get, sometimes they call it like the glitch. Oh, wow. I’m getting a confetti. Uh, you get, that’s when you get the, the glitch where you’re turning this way and then you forget where, where you went into the other room. So I will first say that I think it needs to be renamed. Names that are up for grabs are: self regulation deficit disorder, executive function deficit disorder. 

So I do first want to address that first part, which I think is less debated. The second part around the disorder, I think, I wouldn’t say it’s debated, but I think people have differing opinions. And I do want to first break apart the word disability because I do believe strongly that ADHD is a disability, but I think the way that we think about the word disability, might be a little bit wrong. So we view disability as kind of, or at least the stigmatized version is it’s, uh, like a lesser person where something is broken about them. However, for me, disability, it’s contextual. It’s about being disabled in the environment that you live in and in the life activities that you engage in. So the formal definition of disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. And so the key here is major life activities, which essentially is your environment. It’s something that’s outside of you. It’s something that you need to do. So if that thing is changed and it’s fit for you and it’s in it’s inclusive, it’s accommodating, then you won’t be disabled as much as a person with ADHD. So disability is not a finite thing that doesn’t move. It is contextual to the environment that you’re in and so that’s why I think this conversation we’re having is so important because a large part of our environment is the workplace. But I know we’ll get into that.

[00:04:59] Debbie Goodman: Right, I mean, just in terms of thinking about ADHD in the context of just neurodiversity, meaning different to a common standard that we have, we, meaning the standards that exist currently, present a, well, this is the norm and anything other than the norm is then a disability. I think that just the reframing, the thing of it, it’s just different. Just as we have started to create environments that can accommodate people with physical challenges, physical differences, and differences in ableness I think what we’re, what I’m starting to hear around the community in terms of ADHD is that how do we accommodate for difference in a way that doesn’t label people as less than. So what nevertheless, and to continue along the base level of education for somebody who’s listening to this and has got a kind of idea of what it is, but not really, what are some of the behaviours, you started to speak about them? And once again, I do understand there’s a vast range, but some of the core behaviours that somebody with ADHD typically displays.

[00:06:07] Chris Wang: Yeah, so if we were to bucket it into the way that the, the word is structured and also the presentations is according to the DSM 5 there are three presentations of ADHD. There’s, hyperactive, impulsive, there’s inattentive and then there’s combined, which is if you have enough symptoms of the first two, which I am a bucket of the third.

Uh, so, if I were to just give a few examples in each one, so hyperactivity, it looks different depending on your culture, depending on your gender, depending on your age. But, uh, it’s that kid who is running around bouncing off of walls talking to a lot of people And then it’s that adult who is maybe fidgeting, their energy is coming out. They have potentially hyperactive thoughts It doesn’t have to be just external so you might be thinking very rapidly and sometimes you end up in impulsive Uh situations where your words come out before your brain is done thinking and then you end up in a sticky situation those are all symptoms of hyperactivity and there’s also Restlessness, so you sometimes see people who are moving their leg a lot or fidgeting with their hair just kind of getting that energy out or stimming with I have like many stim toys here that I play with during meetings to keep me focused so that’s the hyperactivity. Inattention is generally, as a kid, is the person who’s really the daydreamer. They’re getting caught up in stories in their head and maybe aren’t able to focus on school, and then maybe misses out when the teacher is explaining things. And then as you get older, Inattention generally shows up in various different ways depending on your life context, but it could be forgetting things, misplacing things, missing timelines a lot of varying inattention, and then combined would be any kind of combination of the two. That’s kind of the formal definition, but I like to think about ADHD and a lot of neurodiverse conditions as just having I would say executive functioning challenges.

So executive function is like the CEO of your brain. It’s how you plan, prioritize, manage time, reach goals, really that day to day struggle of getting you to where you need to go. That is what ties together many different neurodiverse conditions.

[00:08:16] Debbie Goodman: So as I’m listening to this, I’m also recognizing, and we’re going to talk about how does this show up in the workplace, one of the key areas that is considered important for people at any level in the professional workspace certainly is, I mean, the basic need to deliver on deadlines. And then when we go up in sort of the hierarchy, when we talk about executive functioning, the ability to operate with executive functioning, I mean, there are so many assessment tools that are geared to determining just that. And so, I’m aware of how somebody with this type of neurodiversity may not even be able to get through the door if they’re, if standard assessment and interview tools are being used to determine their capability. So, let’s actually talk specifically about people with ADHD in the workplace. What are some of the real challenges that they typically face at work?

[00:09:15] Chris Wang: Yeah. So I would bucket these into the general kind of symptoms and challenges, I think is one bucket, which I’ll get into and I think the second bucket that’s talked less about, is actually the shame and the masking and the lack of the safe space that allows you to actually ask for accommodations and be able to allow your strength to thrive.

And so I’ll talk about that one afterwards, because I think it’s important. But the executive function or kind of how it shows up at work, it generally comes down to project management skills, I would say, if I were to bucket it into one type of role, it’s things like keeping track of tasks, keeping track of deadlines being able to decide how you orient your work to be able to get you to that deadline, how do you pull other people in at the right time how to, get what you need out of a meeting, how to remember what someone is telling you in a meeting and then translating that to tasks. So it’s all of that kind of executive functioning that really shows up in almost every single role at work until you get to a quite senior level where you can kind of delegate that out and not worry about it anymore. So I think that is definitely the biggest part but I think the part that is most impactful for people with ADHD is all of the effort that it requires to try harder than others to do those things. How you beat yourself up when you aren’t able to do those things properly. How most people don’t know that there are accommodations or skills or systems that you can put in place that are fit for your work. And that’s a lot of the work what we do in coaching is helping people find those systems and when you don’t have all of that support and accommodations you end up just in a spot where you don’t feel good about yourself, other people don’t feel good about you and then you end up in a kind of shame and low self-esteem spiral which then essentially creates like a ceiling for people who have ADHD or are neurodiverse where they aren’t able to get promoted to be able to get to where they want to get to in life.

[00:11:18] Debbie Goodman: Because it’s not to say that people who have these challenges aren’t able to function. They are able to function, but the amount of effort that it takes in order to get certain things done that other people who don’t have this would be able to do quicker or easier with less stress is tremendous. And then also perhaps either not knowing themselves yet that this is a diagnosis or knowing and feeling like if they were to disclose this, it would be used as a judgment against them, or possibly even a, you know, conscious or unconscious bias around, should we give this project to this person? Are they going to be able to deliver on it? Will they meet the deadlines? Should we promote them? So understandably in the workplace, if this is something where there’s a general culture around non-disclosure of any kind of sort of alternative to the norm one might end up feeling super challenged, stressed out, constantly anxious, just general lack of wellbeing and not able to operate optimally at all in any event.

Um, so you were actually only like relatively recently diagnosed. You said like three years ago. Why did it take so long? Did you know, did you have a sense earlier on that, that there was something not quite right? Not quite easy for you. I mean, how did, how did this all transpire?

[00:12:38] Chris Wang: Yeah, I kind of had a lot of odds stacked against me. I think being a woman and being someone who is Asian, uh, I think those two things have the strongest play in why I was diagnosed so late. So I think women are generally diagnosed later in life. Part of the reason is because the DSM 5 criteria has been written off of the research of young boys, mostly young boys. And generally women, which actually isn’t my case, but for women generally their symptoms are a bit more internally facing. So things like inattention and daydreaming when they’re a kid, which frankly just doesn’t bother other people as much as if your kid is running around and bouncing off walls and distracting everyone. So it’s less likely to sign the alarm bells for that diagnosis. So I think the female part, which is why so many women now are being diagnosed later in life, and a lot of them are diagnosed when their kid is diagnosed, oftentimes when their son is diagnosed. So there’s that part, and then there’s also being Asian, which means that we don’t really talk about mental health stuff. We don’t really have the language around it. We don’t talk about it at dinner table conversations. And generally, especially as a kid, you want to just make your family look good. You don’t want to not become a doctor or a lawyer. God forbid and, which I obviously didn’t do any of those things. But yeah, so there’s that piece as well. And also because most, a lot of Asian families do not rely as much on, I would say, Western medicine, which my family falls into that bucket, so I also had a thought of like, oh, if I don’t want medication, like, what is the point of a diagnosis?

I feel differently now about both medication and the what is the point part, but those are some of the factors as to why I didn’t get it until, I guess I was more so like an adult living my own life and making my own decisions, a little bit more divorced from living at home with my family.

[00:14:28] Debbie Goodman: So since then what’s the journey been? Because just to pick up on one key thing, talking about the decision around whether to go the medication route or a behavioural solution and what the alternatives are there and whether they need to be one or the other, whether it’s an and? I’d love to hear more about that.

[00:14:49] Chris Wang: Yeah, so I am a strong advocate for the and. And the and looks different per person. So there are largely three buckets of treatment modalities. There is medication, which can be stimulant or non-stimulant. There is therapy and there’s ADHD coaching. In addition to that, there’s a myriad of like lifestyle changes that you can make that kind of will be touched on in, in many of those modalities. But I generally, what happens now is you go to a psychiatrist and then when you get your diagnosis, the first line of defence is medication. And the reason why it’s the first line of defence is because it is actually very effective. It’s probably one of the most effective medications. Of course, there are side effects as well. So it comes down to your own decision on how severe is your ADHD? Do you want to take medication? How much medication do you want to take? For me, I try not to, one thing I’m working on is trying not to be super black and white, so what I actually try to do is, the way I think about it is, what is the minimum amount of medication that I can take and then build on that, uh, other modalities. So I currently both take medication, but less than I did in the beginning in addition to doing ADHD coaching. And if, for many women, and everyone actually, uh, there are many other Challenges that have piled up in addition to ADHD so anxiety or depression or anything like that so therapy might be a part of your solution set as well if you’re working through some of the other challenges so it really just depends on what you are working with which hopefully kind of you have a ADHD informed Provider or a quarterback of your health care system that is able to help you make those decisions and kind of guide you through that.

[00:16:41] Debbie Goodman: Yeah, listening to this and going, okay, I, this is sounding like something I could investigate further. I don’t want to go see a psychiatrist and it’s perhaps not that severe or I’m functioning kind of fine, but I’d love the help. What, how does one go about the behavioural coaching route? Because I mean, that’s essentially what led to you founding Shimmer. My understanding is that it’s pretty hard to find qualified ADHD coaches who really understand how it functions and can provide the right type of support. And that is quite expensive.

[00:17:15] Chris Wang: Yes, so all those things were true two years ago, and now that Shimmer exists that those statements are no longer true. And we’re very proud of that. Uh, we set out to tackle the affordability issue and along with a bunch of other issues which includes finding the coach vetting them. These are all things that are very difficult for someone who just got diagnosed. You don’t know how to do these things and so at Shimmer we offer ADHD coaching that is based on Five to 10 times more affordable than anything else out there. And, uh, we have an extremely robust process to not only just vetting our coaches, making sure they have the right credentials and right passion and kind of, uh, reason as to why they’re doing it, but also continuing to train them to invest in their learning and development, because this is a very fluid space, the understanding of ADHD, and it is essential that any provider that you work with is staying up to date with ADHD and what is the latest in the science, and that’s very difficult to do if you’re not spending all day on ADHD, which, for most therapists and most primary care providers, it’s very It’s just the reality that they’re not because they have to know a bunch of other stuff and they have to be that kind of generalist so now you can get affordable ADHD coaching and we will help you find the right coach amongst all of our coaches and be able to kind of walk you through that process so that was essentially what I was looking for that didn’t exist when I first got diagnosed and hence why we created this.

[00:18:51] Debbie Goodman: And if somebody were to feel like that, they meet the criteria themselves, they’ve done some self-diagnosis, let’s say, and they’re just not ready to do the medication route or they want to try the coaching first and see whether that could help in itself. Is that something that you are able to offer through Shimmer?

[00:19:12] Chris Wang: Yeah, so we don’t require a diagnosis. We know that everyone is in a different healthcare and cultural position. Uh, so you can be self-diagnosed, you can be unsure. The methodology that we kind of sit in between two worlds. So we sit in between the life coaching world that is credentialed by either ICF, the International Coaching Federation, or NBHWC, which is the National Board of Health and Wellness Coaches. That’s kind of one world, and then two is the science and application of behaviour change for ADHD and neurodiverse folks. So, that first part, regardless if you’re, you’re, uh, neurodiverse or ADHD you will benefit from life coaching, from getting guidance around how to set goals that are going to help you achieve the life that you deserve, how to break that down into smaller pieces, how to make movements on that every single week, and how to make sure that also each step of the way that you’re taking, because it’s about the process, not just the outcome, that you are living a life that is aligned with your values, you are working on accepting the parts that you can’t change, and you’re actively working on the parts that you can. So that is something that the whole modality is applicable to. Anyone who wants to grow.

[00:20:24] Debbie Goodman: Out of interest, why the decision to only focus on adults? Because we know that children are much more likely to get an early diagnosis. And so I’m just curious to know about the focus that you have on adults. Is it because it’s not being serviced at all, and it’s just a completely blue ocean new territory, or is there some other reason for that?

[00:20:47] Chris Wang: It’s a bit of a few reasons so definitely in my opinion there are a lot of systems they need they’re not perfect, but there are systems set in place for children, uh, there are far less for adults also because the diagnosis rate is just starting to increase more as awareness increases. So there aren’t as many I would say. Even if there are supports for adults, I would say that they aren’t as culturally informed. I think our Shimmer is very focused on underrepresented populations, very focused on intersectionality, and our coaches do training and learning and development, ongoing learning and development, on all these areas. Uh, so that’s something that I’m personally very passionate about. The other piece is quite frankly, I was building what I needed and I saw a big gap and as I was doing that I found more people who needed that and more people who wanted to provide it. So there is like from ADHD perspective, people with ADHD like to work on things that they’re interested in, they’re passionate about and so for me it has been a wild ride of learning what I would have needed to learn anyways, even if this wasn’t my job. So there is a little bit of a selfish reason to it as well as to I get to keep building the next step that I want to see in my own ADHD journey, but that will likely expand in the future as we expand.

[00:22:11] Debbie Goodman: And speaking of expansions, so, my understanding is that Shimmer so far has a direct-to-consumer model. So you are you’re out there, any individual in the world or in America could find Shimmer and sign up versus going targeting corporations, having a, a sort of a B2C or B2B model. Interested to know that solution.

Is it too difficult to, or is it too niche to offer an organization as a solution? Cause many organizations these days have got various types of mental health solutions that they’re prepared to sponsor and fund. I’m curious to know about that decision too.

[00:22:54] Chris Wang: Yeah, so there’s a few reasons. So the first one is just about alignment and incentives and who the person is that we serve. So we are creating something that is You pretty new to the space and We know that who pays you is who you end up serving and so serving an HR leader is good Our product is going to look different and the priorities that we make and the decisions that we make and the trade-offs that we are going to make is going to look different than if I am serving an individual adult who has ADHD who wants to see specific features in the app. And so, that’s not to say that we don’t serve businesses. Many, many of our members have their Shimmer subscription paid for by their employers, however, they, the employer is not our first and foremost customer. And so we feel that’s really important in the beginning while we’re designing out what this program looks like, what the outcomes look like, having the outcomes aligned with the member and not with some other payer, uh, however as we build this out and we prove the right outcomes and we get to a space where we feel that this is the product that is clearly working. It works across multiple populations. I think it’ll be a natural expansion. It’s just not who we want to do the initial, I would say, like, the startup.

[00:24:13] Debbie Goodman: Right. I really love that. It’s just like super focused on the group that you are serving. It’s a very pure line to take, which is great at this first phase, really. And you have, I recall you saying that your vision for Shimmer is to be the source of truth for adults with ADHD, which once again, points to your conviction and commitment to serving a previously completely underserved group and demographic. What are your hopes and dreams, expectations for Shimmer over the next, let’s say year or so?

[00:24:50] Chris Wang: Yeah, no, I think to kind of break down the source of truth piece in this problem that I’m seeing the space is that most ADHD solutions and information is a bit more deficit driven. So back to the beginning of our conversation when we talked about the neurodiversity of a model versus the Deficit driven or clinical model. I do believe that ADHD is a lot more than just fixing your executive functioning, even just through my own personal journey. It’s about acceptance, it’s about identity, it’s about advocating for yourself, confidence, it’s about A lot more, it’s a lot more holistic. So that’s what we’re trying to do in terms of when I say source of truth is that there needs to be a much wider subset of information and solutions for people with ADHD that feels empowering and is holistic and is culturally responsive. So that’s what I kind of mean by the, the source of truth. And in terms of what I’m excited for I, I’m just excited to have a space where people with ADHD and people who are neurodiverse can come and like, move forward with a positive mindset. I think there’s too much negativity and just like, I need to get fixed, I’m bad. So a space where if you come, You will still move forward. You will still fix things that you’re not great at, but we will enjoy every step of the way that your coach will be celebrating you. They will use positive accountability to get you there. And I think that that’s something that is wider than just our coaching. It’s in every feature that we build. It’s in every like additional event or body doubling, uh, service that we provide. So that’s something that I just I guess it’s more of a, a feeling than a specific feature or outcome that I want to be able to spread.

[00:26:33] Debbie Goodman: Well, I think in just in terms of spreading the message there are more and more people, even in my sort of friend and social and professional network women in particular who are going, Oh, I just got this diagnosis. And all of a sudden my life makes sense to me and this is in their forties or their fifties.

And certainly we’re seeing an openness to having the conversation around ADHD that is less shrouded in shame and more around. Okay, well, how are we going to, how are we going to deal with this? How are we going to because I think there’s also a recognition that there are some areas that are challenging to, to live and function with, but there are other superpowers within some of the behaviours that show up that can be harnessed and embraced and really showcased in a very positive light. So I think that there’s an openness to having discourse around this, not only in families, but in, in the workplace. But where can people find Shimmer and how do they get started? Because I think all of us know people in our extended networks, both professionally and personally that we would want to go, Oh my God, I really want to, I need to send them this information or I need to get online now.

[00:27:42] Chris Wang: Yeah you can find us, our website is the best place to start. It’s www. Shimmer.care. And on there you’ll find, we are all about kind of transparency and education. So you’ll find everything about our approach, who the coaches are, how we train them. The pricing is extremely transparent. These are all challenges that I, I came across when I was looking for a coach.

And we’re always open to feedback. So if you get on our website and there’s something that’s missing or confusing you can always message us. And we are also on Instagram is our, I would say our main form of social media where we spread more bite sized pieces of the blogs and the other curriculum pieces that we have in our app. And that’s just at Shimmer.care.

[00:28:23] Debbie Goodman: Okay. Well, we’ll include all of that in the show notes and anybody who’s listening, who wants to share the message, please go ahead and to you, Chris, thanks so much. I mean, this is just an amazing opportunity for people who have not been able to find This kind of support anywhere.

Finally, there’s a place to go. So thank you for you and for the amazing Shimmer product that you’ve launched in the market and lots of success for ongoing growth.

[00:28:52] Chris Wang: Oh, thank you. No, thank you for everything you’re doing and the topics and the way that you highlight the important topics that you’re talking about. So appreciate you as well.

[00:29:01] Debbie Goodman: Thanks so much. Bye now. 

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