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Interview: James Routledge - Sanctus

Sam Dickie
2 Mins

In this months interview series i'm joined by James Routledge (@jd_routledge), founder of Sanctus.

I have been following James since he started Sanctus early last year, after reading one of his posts on Medium. I was initially attracted to his writing due to his level of openness and transparency. James regularly discussed his progress in starting Sanctus, documenting both the highs and lows as well as his mental state throughout the process which was extremely different to other posts by founders.

​I was fascinated that he was willing to share every detail about braving it and starting his own business from scratch and was willing to document this journey for everyone to follow. So I signed up to his newsletter and have been following his journey ever since.

James Routledge


What is Sanctus? ​

We’re a community of people who believe in mental fitness. We talk openly about mental health, we talk publicly about it and champion Sanctus and it’s mission with pride. We do this by sharing our story on SanctusTV, wearing Sanctus clothing or coming to Sanctus meetups.

We also work with businesses to help them create an open environment where mental health is accepted within their workplace. We do this through educational workshops and ongoing coaching.

Can you tell us a little about how Sanctus came about? ​

Off the back of my own experiences with mental health. I felt the negative perception of mental health which made me not want to talk about it, plus there was just nowhere that I felt comfortable in to talk openly.

How did you validate the need for Sanctus initially? ​

I didn’t really think of it as “validation” I kind of just went with my gut. The validation came through blogging for me, I wrote the post mental health in startups that went viral. That was a big validation that there were  many others like me who wanted to talk openly and normally about mental health.

Sanctus logo

You recently wrote on your newsletter that you chose not to build a website for your launch. Most startups would probably say this is first thing you should create, how come you decided to just go with a static site using Medium?

I just wanted to get going, I can’t code and didn’t want to spend time learning so I used what was there. I think it’s easy to hide behind a “launch” to avoid putting yourself out there, so I just went for it.

Would you recommend others to use Medium for building a site?

For content-heavy, non-technical people I really would. Free (other than the domain name) and super simple.

You have mastered the MVP, what advice would you give to others looking to create an MVP?

You can create a working MVP spending no money and using existing solutions, I’m 100% sure of that. Your MVP could start as a facebook group, it could be a zapier integration etc etc. It’s scary because you really have to jump and face the very real reality of something breaking or not working, but if you’re willing to do that you can get an MVP out in a week.

What was some of the biggest challenges you faced launching Sanctus?

Sanctus website

I was working as a solo founder for the first year. That was hard. Also just doing stuff that didn’t work is hard, I did stuff that nobody used, events that nobody turned up for. It’s demoralising, but you just have to learn from it and keep on keeping on.

What was it like being a solo founder before you eventually brought on your co-founder?

Hard. Lonely. I made a real effort to let other people in on what I was doing. I used social to share my journey really openly, so felt like I had lots of support. I also had people close to me that I shared with too.

Sanctus team

Sanctus Team

What is the best piece of business advice you have received or read?

The founder of whatsapp Jan Koum e-mailed me back once with one word of advice - focus.

How did you manage to acquire readers/ users to your platform? and then manage to convert that traffic into paid customers? ​

I’m not really sure of the details or the conversion rate etc, I never tracked anything. I genuinely just tried to share my story regularly and consistently. I believe if you do that, then the people who believe in what you’re doing will gravitate to you and then some of them will pay for what you do.

Your a non technical entrepreneur yourself, do you feel the barrier for entry are getting lower? There just seems to be so many free tools and resources out there for non-techs to use and create something when previously this just wasn’t possible. ​

Unless you’re building a deeply technical product there are very few barriers to entry now, just get started if you want it that bad.

What’s next for Sanctus ?

We’re going to raise $50m in VC, scale to an AI based Sanctus coach with a machine learning algorithm and then IPO. Only joking, we just want to build a good honest healthy business that makes more than it spends and creates value to the people in our community.

You wrote a fantastic piece on Medium a while ago regarding Mental Health in Startups which was incredibly well received and went on to be featured in the Guardian. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who feel the pressure to succeed?  ​

Carve your own path and stop comparing yourself to others. There isn’t one way, only your way.

​Interested in finding out more about Sanctus? ​Join the Sanctus Community for a unique evening of inspiring stories from people who are open about their personal story of how they’ve worked with their mental health, to become the best versions of themselves. This event will have energy like no other; will incite curiosity and leave you feeling inspired.