A day with video game Co-founder, Dr Emilia Molimpakis

We spent the day with Dr Emilia Molimpakis, Co-founder of Thymia, a platform that uses Neuropsychology video games to make mental health assessments faster

As the CEO and co-founder of Thymia, Dr Emilia Molimpakis has been leading the business for almost three years. Before, she worked in academia for over a decade as a Neuroscientist and Linguist, spending most of her time at University College London. There, she examined how different people produced and understood language, using this as a biomarker for various cognitive processes. 

Throughout that time, Dr Emilia was fortunate enough to work with a wide range of patient populations, using her knowledge to identify cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s Disease patients, but also respond to treatment in patients with depression, all through language use. She also worked as a scientific consultant for video game developers, applying her knowledge of Psycholinguistics to make video game levels progressively harder. 

We spent the day with Dr Emilia to find out what a typical day is like for the founder of a Neuropsychology video game company. 

Starting the day with positivity 

I find exercise is exceptionally helpful to get me in a positive frame of mind and to help put any stressful thoughts into perspective; typically the more strenuous the activity the better and I love rowing and running. That having been said, I am pretty terrible at waking up early and no one wants to run in the cold and the wet in the winter, so to motivate myself to get up and out I will also reward myself with a great coffee or pastry from my favourite local bakery. Having an upbeat music playlist is also very important for me at any time of day. I think my Spotify 2022 Wrapped told me I listened to something like 600 hours of music this year!

My day tends to start at around 7AM. I go for a run and get ready, then I’ll spend an hour or so responding to emails and preparing for any meetings I have that day whilst commuting and listening to my favourite music. From 9:00 to 9:30, I’ll usually start with internal team meetings with the rest of the management team, followed by meetings with the commercial and research teams. 

I tend to work best in the afternoon, so I’ll spend that time doing whatever needs to be my biggest focus on that day. That could be speaking to investors, catching up with new and existing clients, recording a podcast, preparing for clinical trials, conducting new research, applying for grants or working more on the product roadmap and execution. Given how packed the day is with meetings, I often joke that my day actually starts at 5 or 6PM. I do still try to leave the office by 6.30 or 7 if I can. But like any founder, this isn't always possible, especially when you’re also fundraising! I’ve seen a big boost in energy and productivity, however, when my co-founder and I set Wednesdays as strictly “No Meeting” days, so we could make substantial progress on other things. 

My weekdays are typically filled with back-to-back meetings until 5 or 6pm or so. Since we have many clients in Brazil, I’ve also been learning Brazilian Portuguese, so 3 afternoons a week I’ll have language lessons after my meetings. I’ll then turn my attention to product design or experiment design. We’re always running lots of studies to test our technology, build and calibrate our AI models, and test new applications for the platform. I also try to take Saturdays off to reset. 

Overcoming the day's challenges 

For me, one of the hardest challenges is maintaining my energy levels to execute everything I need to do to the very best of my ability. We’re always incredibly busy and I always want to put my best and most useful foot forward in each interaction I have with my team, our customers and our investors. This requires strict prioritisation but also strict boundaries so that I can conserve energy and focus on the most important tasks. Maintaining those boundaries has been one of the hardest things to achieve. 

Having a company is like having a baby in many ways and one way is that you have this constant urge to check on it and make sure it is doing ok at all hours of the day, seven days a week; but maintaining that relentless pace is impossible and so bad for your mental health. I am also naturally a perfectionist and one of the hardest things about becoming a founder was to be able to let go of having everything 100% perfect or risk losing momentum. So after a few years, of combining stricter boundaries with a less perfectionist mindset, I am finally achieving more of that balance and I find I have energy for everything necessary. 

Enjoying the day's highlights

There are two big things for me at this point; one is the intellectual challenge of developing Thymia’s clinical solution. It’s a technically and scientifically complex task which involves multiple scientific disciplines, not just Neuroscience, Psychology and Linguistics (my specialities) but also Computer Vision, ethical Artificial Intelligence and multi-modal Machine Learning. I love bouncing ideas off of Stefano, my co-founder, and other members of the team and seeing these take shape within hours. 

We also take great pride in building a beautiful and engaging product, it is one of the core values of Thymia, so I love seeing every new development there and contributing to the design. The other thing that is quite simply incomparable is seeing how big of an impact this solution can have on the everyday lives of so many people. I always smile every time a patient or other end user tells us how much they love our games. This really is the reason we created Thymia and it's also the reason I keep pushing hard every single day to make that day count, even on super challenging days.

Ending the day well

It probably won't come as a surprise, but I do love gaming. I try to take some time daily or every other day to just switch off with a video game - preferably with a knockout soundtrack! I also enjoy good food and spending quality time with my partner; I will always take at least an hour at the end of the day without my phone or laptop anywhere near me so I can be fully present in the moment. Since the pandemic and working from home I have been really strict with myself in creating "no work zones" - areas of the house where I can't work or talk or think about work. Although it was pretty difficult to do this originally, the payoff is phenomenal as I can just automatically relax now when e.g. I sit in the living room. I feel a little bit like Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory in that my sofa spot is my safe spot where I sit to immediately switch off at the end of the day. 

Bizarrely, I have also found that my becoming a founder has actually improved my personal relationships as it has really forced me to be 100% present in every interaction with my loved ones so as to make every moment I spend with them count. 

Even when I am very busy, I like to take an hour at least at the end of the day to enjoy a film, series or a gaming session with my partner; this really helps me unwind. I’ve found that when I push myself too much and work too late, it can be very hard to fall asleep, making me tired the day after, so the net effect is actually negative. It’s either a TV session or, if I haven’t managed to go for a run in the morning, I will do a longer run with my partner in the evening. On the rare days when I actually have a whole afternoon off, I enjoy reading in a coffee shop or visiting some of my favourite areas in London, like Seven Dials, for some great food or a drink with friends. 

Growing up, I was chronically sleep deprived as it used to take me hours to fall asleep. In the past 10 years, I’ve built up a full pre-sleep routine that I repeat religiously every evening, from brushing my teeth and doing my skincare to some gentle stretching and keeping a journal. It really helps with telling my brain that it is time to go to sleep now, so I can actually get to sleep within 10 minutes of finishing the routine. If you have trouble sleeping, I would highly recommend giving a set routine like that a go, it’s been a real lifesaver for me.


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