Sally Metelerkamp grew up in a single-parent household with a mother who was living with addiction. She also had to witness, first-hand, the stigma that came with addiction, from a society that didn’t have the knowledge or understanding of how to help people, like her mum. And even today, Metelerkamp says we still don’t have it right.

“I was my mum’s primary supporter, but I was still just a kid and I couldn’t comprehend why people weren’t helping her. I remember thinking ‘she’s not a criminal, she’s just someone who is really sick’. 

“Now I understand far more about addiction. That using alcohol, substances and certain behaviours to cope with ‘life’ is a human issue that affects many people – more than one in five, in fact. But due to the shame and misinformation surrounding addiction, people often don’t realise what they’re struggling with, or are too ashamed to reach out.”

Based in Queenstown, Metelerkamps story of courage and resilience growing up is incredible and it’s easy to see how her childhood experience of addiction ignited a passion in her for helping others. So today she is writing another story, one of a successful entrepreneur, and being the founder of Lived, an app, which aims to radically change the way people access and experience support for some of life’s toughest challenges. 

“We still don’t recognise addiction as the physiological health condition it truly is, which means the options for support are limited. Sadly, we usually wait until someone is at the critical stages of addiction before we can intervene with services, like rehab, detox, support groups,” says Metelerkamp. 

“So the focus of Lived is to offer the realest, most relatable way to drink less and live more, supporting its users to cut-back, quit or explore change with alcohol, via audio and tools from real people who’ve done it themselves.” 

But the first rollout for Lived isn’t the limit for Metelerkamp and her team, as the vision for the company is about so much more than just alcohol support. Stemming from the belief that the future of health support is peer-led and clinically backed, the unique approach from Lived is that each user is ‘paired’ with someone who has ‘lived’ experience of the same challenge, and who has already achieved their goals and figured out what works.    

“It’s about connecting people who can share how they were successful in their own personal journey and encouraging users to believe in themselves. Many other apps and programs offer a ‘one size fits all’ approach, when everyone’s experience is so personal and unique. So our real life Lived guides can recognise those nuances and personalise the way they help others.” 

And perhaps most importantly, Lived is a place that is safe and welcoming that firmly shuts down shame. 

“We’ve created a technology that feels good to use. It doesn’t punish, it rewards, and helps to positively measure outcomes along the way. From those who are curious as to how to cut back on their drinking, to those who know they want to stop – it’s for everyone.” 

Lived App example – For making changes big and small with alcohol.

The challenge for Metelerkamp and her team has been educating the market – both investors and consumers – on the opportunity for change in a highly stigmatised problem space. “Convincing investors to back the company has not been without its challenges, but when you are a founder with a unique view on the world, it’s your job to keep talking to who it might click with until your story starts to make sense.  Not everyone will understand what you are trying to do, but you only need a few people to truly understand the vision. Finding those initial believers can take time.” 

But the antidote to this has been staying focused and strategic – because even when you have VC funding, you still have limited time to prove value and prove the product. 

“It’s so easy to get distracted by all the different ways you can ‘slice the pie’, especially when you have a big opportunity and so much fire for a project. 

“But we all had to realise that every hour of our day counts, so it came down to figuring out how we could all move together in the same direction, by working on the right things. And ultimately this was about our members and how much value we’re shipping to them daily.”   

Like most entrepreneurial journeys, mistakes have been made along the way. But Metelerkamp is philosophical on reflection of these, knowing that they have all steered the understanding awareness of those involved in the project to a much better place. In other words, she wouldn’t trade the stuff ups for the learnings. 

And the support from the end users has been nothing short of amazing, proof to the Lived team that what they are doing is, at the bare minimum, helpful for many, but for others – it’s life changing. The beta app was launched in December 2021 with a closed Facebook group of 300 women who had self-identified as ‘wine mummies’ and not long after word spread. 

“We had thousands of people downloading and using the app, who then complained as we had initially only focused on a particular societal group. They wanted more nationalities represented, as well as the inclusion of men – not just women. So 2022 has been about keeping up with demand for this new cross-section of users and growing our number of global guides.

“Building a global tech company for one of the most complex and misunderstood problems on the planet has not been easy, but when you work on something that has potential to change the lives of billions of people, I can assure you, it’s worth every minute,” shares Metelerkamp.

Story by Erin Harrison. In partnership with Startup Queenstown Lakes.

Innovation Nation is a series celebrating stories of innovation and diversity in entrepreneurship from around New Zealand.

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