It’s no surprise to us that our co-founder, Zachariah Booker, sees his entrepreneurial spirit as his ADHD superpower. Hear him tell his ADHD story in this episode of Refocused, Together.
Lindsay Guentzel (00:02):
Welcome to Refocused, Together. I’m your host, Lindsay Guentzel, and this is a special ADHD Awareness Month series of my podcast Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel. If you’re a regular listener, you know that the Refocused Podcast is where we change the narrative around ADHD and share the tips and tools we need to refocus and live our best lives. If you’re new here and found us because of ADHD Awareness Month, welcome. We are so glad to have you. Now, there are parts of this ADHD journey that some of us have figured out, and there are parts that we all still need help cracking. So for ADHD Awareness Month, I’m collaborating as always with my partner ADHD Online to interview 31 people. That’s one interview for every day of the month about their own ADHD experience.
We’ll hear from people who were diagnosed as kids and those diagnosed well into adulthood. We’ll talk about hyper-focus and distraction, stigma and shame, grief and acceptance, and so much more. And we’ll see that ADHD can affect anyone, all genders, orientations, backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures. And while there are differences in how we live this truth, there are also so many similarities that bring us together in community. This special project is very near and dear to my heart, and although talking to 31 different people has been a lot of talking, I am so grateful for each person who shared their story, and I am forever changed by these conversations. And of course, I cannot wait for you to meet my guests and get to know them. Be sure to subscribe to Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel so that you don’t miss a single story this month. And with that, let’s get on to today’s episode.
Zach Booker is the co-founder and CEO of ADHD Online. He was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 17, and remembers all too well how difficult it was for him and his mom as they tried to get the help they needed. Multiple visits to a psychologist who asked the same questions over and over, and so much money spent out-of-pocket for answers and proper support. Years later, when his son needed similar care, Zach was surprised at the time and energy it still took to get the appropriate resources for ADHD. He knew there needed to be a more affordable and straightforward path for diagnosing and treating people who knew or felt they had ADHD. That’s what motivated him and his Dr. Randall Duthler to create ADHD Online. A solution finder and creative thinker, Zach considers his ADHD to be a superpower, and he’s definitely used it for good, building a company that offered vital support to families during COIVD-19 and has helped many people get the high quality and accessible mental health services they deserve. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Zach Booker, CEO and co-founder of ADHD Online.
I’m really excited to dive into this conversation with you. Obviously, as one of the co-founders and the CEO of ADHD Online, you have your own ADHD story. So Zach, I’m hoping that we could kind of start back at the beginning and go back to your own diagnosis.
Zach Booker (03:51):
Yeah, yeah. Love to relive a lot of the process of being able to identify what was going on in my mental space. So when I was a teenager, I had the entrepreneurial bug. I wanted to do something at scale. So I started companies when I was in my mid-teens to upper teens and I had a lot of failures, but a couple successes. And with the failures. I’ve learned I truly didn’t understand why I thought the way I did, and I wanted to understand more about why I thought the way I did. And also, while in my mid-teens, I was going to school, obviously, and when I was in high school, I wasn’t getting the best grades, and I didn’t have resources to be able to help me identify why I wasn’t getting the good grades or why I wasn’t being able to pay attention the way my fellow students were paying attention.
So at 17 years old, I went through the diagnosis process of understanding my mental health, and I was diagnosed with ADHD, and I go, oh, that makes sense. So then I was put on a regimen of therapy, medication and just trying to figure it out. And it was just like this aha moment. Got it. Now that I understand ADHD, I was able to find resources, know that I’m going to think about things differently than other people, and then use that as an advantage in life. So I continued to start and fund more companies and being able to help, and it just evolved from there.
Lindsay Guentzel (05:34):
When you look back at the diagnosis and you mentioned the failures, trying something, which I think trying something is the hardest thing, and the failure is really learning, but we don’t phrase it that way in our brains. We aren’t looking at that. But when you look back at the diagnosis and the stuff that was happening with some of those projects you were taking on, can you see where the ADHD was coming out?
Zach Booker (05:56):
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. So it was a lot of energy. It was a lot of energy and passion. And you see it today even in a lot of ADHDers, is they have a lot of passion for whatever drives them or what gets them up in the morning. So it’s something that allows us to be able to say, “I love what I do, and I’m going to continue to keep the gas pedal down.” And for ADHDers, it could be an impulsive thing, it could be a proactive thing, it could be a reactive situation and where you’re going to be able to pivot much faster than somebody that may not have ADHD.
Lindsay Guentzel (06:30):
I want to ask, so you mentioned getting the diagnosis, having the aha moment, and then starting into that treatment plan and figuring out what was working for you. And I love that you mentioned just understanding how your brain works because I think that it’s crucial to just know why we say yes to certain things or we say no to certain things. How has your treatment plan changed over the years? Because 17 is very young and obviously, you talk about all the things that can happen between then and now and starting a bunch of different companies, starting ADHD online, getting married, having children. What have you added and taken away to make sure that it’s working for you?
Zach Booker (07:09):
I took away medication, so I was put on medication as the initial regimen that I should try, but it just didn’t work for me. I got headaches and there were some other complications, and I’m like, no, I’m going to figure it out myself. I’m going to be able to get the tips and tricks and resources to be able to help me find the best way that I can manage my ADHD because everybody’s different. So for me, it was many years of being able to manage it in a way of starting more companies, not having that fear of failure and just keeping myself busy ultimately. So until it came to the time where my wife said stop buying more companies, Yeah, it was an issue. So yeah, it was fun, though.
Lindsay Guentzel (07:54):
It’s always interesting when you hear the other side of the neurodivergent relationship when it’s somebody who’s neurotypical and you’re like, oh, that bothers you.
Zach Booker (08:03):
Yeah, great balance, by the way, so idealist, realist. My wife, the saint that she is, she understood from the onset I think differently, but she compliments that so well. So it really was a great partnership.
Lindsay Guentzel (08:19):
It’s like fishing. You have to give out a enough line to get the fish interested, but then you have to pull back.
Zach Booker (08:24):
Yeah, I’m a great sales fan.
Lindsay Guentzel (08:25):
Yes. I like that. It’s important to talk about the negative side of things because there’s this mindset right now of making ADHD your superpower, which is amazing, but for some people who are new to their diagnosis or are in a rough patch, it can feel very isolating because you’re like, I’m not having that amazing feeling about my ADHD. So when you look at how ADHD has showed up in your life, what are some of the negatives? And it doesn’t have to be anything big. It can be stuff you’ve even worked through.
Zach Booker (08:55):
Yeah, so that stigma of having it as a disability is completely untrue. It is an ability to be able to think differently. Not everybody has to have that aha moment. You can have the ability to say this is going to be an evolving understanding of myself. This is going to be something where I’m going to find a sweet spot eventually. Some people find it right away, some people find it eventually. But for me, it wasn’t right away where I found that ability to manage my ADHD correctly, to where I was at an optimal stance. And for others just the same.
Lindsay Guentzel (09:28):
Your super power is the entrepreneurial spirit, which is working really great for you right now in Grand Rapids with everything that’s happening around here, especially with so many different tech startups, when you look at the most beneficial part of your ADHD, is there a way to narrow it down?
Zach Booker (09:48):
Yeah, it’s being able to think at scale? So Grand Rapids, we cultivated this idea out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and this idea, within days, had the dream of a much larger exposure. So we wanted to say this was fun here, but I think it’s going to be more fun if we go to all 50 states. And we did that rapidly, and we were able to say we can help people. And we see the benefit and the outcomes here locally, but across the nation at scale, it’s been amazing.
Lindsay Guentzel (10:22):
It’s an interesting time for telemedicine because of the pandemic. And I’m curious how with ADHD and the ability to focus and stay on task, did that throw you at all, the pandemic? Because for the rest of us, it was this moment of our lives were shutting down, but for you and for ADHD Online, it was like, No, we need to ramp up. This is our moment to show what we are capable of doing and how we can help people. And for the first time, telemedicine became not just something that we were helping people in rural communities, it was a necessity for everyone. I mean, I remember sitting on my couch having a dermatology appointment, showing my phone camera the moles to my doctor. In those moments of those days, the early days of the pandemic, what was going through your brain?
Zach Booker (11:13):
So we were a disruptive company, 2018 to pre-pandemic stage. We’re very disruptive because we took a diagnosis process that took seven months in the traditional setting and made it three days or less. So there was some headwind against the organic tailwind growth, but when that pandemic happened, we immediately saw that demand and pivoted and said, okay, now we’re diagnosis and treatment. So we went from disruptive to innovative. So that innovative part of us, we were able to say, okay, now we need to scale this, adding employees and more staff to be able to help the demand that we’ve seen from patients on the treatment side, whether it’s medical treatment or teletherapy or both.
Lindsay Guentzel (11:54):
I know that you and Dr. Duthler, a part of the story was, the origin story for ADHD Online is your own sons’ journeys going through the process. And tell me some of the things for you, as a father, watching that unfold because you had gone through it and from the sounds of it had a very positive experience. And then you’re there as an advocate for your most prized possession, one of your children. What were some of the things that you noticed that were really frustrating?
Zach Booker (12:24):
So frustrating, I don’t know if it was necessarily frustration. It was more of saying I’ve identified in my son the abilities that I have and it’s almost like a proud moment to be able to say I’ve been through this process. I know how I’m going to be able to help him throughout his journey of having ADHD. And the tips and tricks that I’ve learned may not work for him necessarily, but it may be a great launchpad for him to identify the ability for him to manage his own ADHD. So it was more of a proud moment for me, which may be weird to hear, but not necessarily frustration, but more of the ability to help my son.
Lindsay Guentzel (13:08):
And on the medical side of things, with the actual assessment and the things that you were going through, what did you notice? Did had things changed from your time?
Zach Booker (13:19):
Oh, yeah. Well, so compared to our model?
Lindsay Guentzel (13:21):
Well, no, no. So when you were 17 and you went in and you took the assessment and then your son’s doing it however many years later, what was the process like? Was it different? Did you notice things?
Zach Booker (13:32):
So it was through us, our process.
Lindsay Guentzel (13:34):
Zach Booker (13:35):
Yeah. So my son was still of the age of where we can diagnose here. So yeah, it was-
Lindsay Guentzel (13:40):
Oh, I didn’t know that. So in the scheme of the early patients for ADHD Online, your son is one of them?
Zach Booker (13:46):
Lindsay Guentzel (13:46):
Zach Booker (13:48):
Yeah, We wanted to make sure it worked for us before it worked for the public. So we went through efficacy ourselves to make sure.
Lindsay Guentzel (13:53):
That’s really amazing. I did not know that. What a special way to be able to look back at the company and go, we were really in it from day one. I mean, to put your family in the front and go, we’re going to make sure that this works before we send it out to anybody else. I mean, it speaks volumes.
Zach Booker (14:10):
Lindsay Guentzel (14:10):
It does. I want to ask and I’m afraid for the answer with this collaboration because I’m going to ask you what you’re excited about and what’s on the horizon and knowing your entrepreneurial spirit, I’m a little afraid of how much he is going to tell me and how extensive it’s going to be. In a great way, in a great way. So when you wake up in the morning and you start thinking about the future, what is jumping out at you? What is getting you up? Where are you pulling energy from?
Zach Booker (14:42):
The potential is immense. So ADHD was fun. What’s next? So if we’re able to help ADHDers identify and manage what’s going on with them, what can we do with people who are experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSA, dyslexia, all of the other things that surround ADHD, all the comorbidities or other modalities, like autism, addiction? What can we do to be able to help that demographic that’s experiencing those issues and identify a better process for managing it?
Lindsay Guentzel (15:15):
It’s really interesting this time that we’re in. The pandemic, for most people, there aren’t silver linings. I felt so out of control for most of it and then got my own ADHD diagnosis and then went back to work. And so it was just like this thrown back into the fire, but it really was this time for all of us to stop and pause and start to take stock of what was working and what wasn’t working. And the great part of the internet for all the terrible things is hearing other people’s stories and being able to connect and go, oh my goodness, that’s how my brain thinks or that’s how I feel. I remember the first time I realized what anxiety felt like and I was like, oh, so those weren’t just stomach aches. There was something leading to that. And so you have this model and how wonderful to be in a time where people are actually talking about mental health and looking at it with a much bigger lens.
Zach Booker (16:09):
Yeah. Yeah. I couldn’t be where I’m at today without the peers and people to help me get there. So it really comes down to experience. If I’m able to communicate with others who have similar experience or on a similar track to where I’m headed and they’re able to say, hey, here’s the failures that I’ve been through. Here’s what I’ve learned to do, but more importantly, what I’ve learned not to do. That’s what I want to be able to give the rest of the community is those kind of insights into the experiences of failures and successes in life, whether it’s business or person.
Lindsay Guentzel (16:43):
And a lot of the times, I have this conversation, I’m a gray area person. My life and work, there’s a big gray area. I’m not somebody who works eight to five and leaves it and doesn’t touch it. It is an all day thing. And I do think that there are a lot of people who find themselves there because more and more of us are going after the things we’re passionate about. And so it’s tough.
Zach Booker (17:07):
Passion doesn’t have a timeline, right?
Lindsay Guentzel (17:08):
Zach Booker (17:09):
It doesn’t have a clock in, clock out time for the day. It is all day 24/7/365. So it’s something that you just got to be able to enjoy the ride because it’s going to be nonstop.
Lindsay Guentzel (17:20):
Let’s wrap this up because of October being ADHD Awareness Month and the whole point of telling as many stories as possible in these 31 days is to change the narrative and really dive into how complex ADHD is and the different ways it shows up for people. So I’m curious, you’ve got quite a few years, and then building a telemedicine healthcare company based around ADHD, what is something you wish the public understood better or a stigma that just has to go away?
Zach Booker (17:48):
Yeah. ADHD is not a mental disability. It’s a mental ability. And to be able to manage it correctly, that’s something that people need to identify for themselves. There’s not one way to do it right. So for them, use us as a resource. Use family, friends as a resource to be able to help you progress and find that optimal point in your life.
Lindsay Guentzel (18:11):
Zach, thank you so much. I really appreciate you joining me and sharing a little bit on the backstory for ADHD Online and your own journey. And I’m really glad that I asked for some clarification on your son being diagnosed because I think that truly does speak volumes about how you set up and the standard of care.
Zach Booker (18:28):
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. Appreciate your time.
Lindsay Guentzel (18:44):
There are so many people to thank for Making Refocus Together happen, the entire team ADHD Online, Zach Booker, Dr. Randall Duthler, Tim Gutwald, Keith Brophy, my teammates, Keith Boswell, Suzanne Spruit, Claudia Gotti, Melanie Mile, Paul Owen, Kirsten Pip, Sissy Yi, Tricia Merchant Dunny, Lauren Radley, Corey Kearney and Mason Nelly and the team at Dexia, Hector and Kenneth, and the team at Snack Media, Cameron Sterling and Candace Lefke, Camilla Eden, Lauren Terry, Sarah Gelbard, Phil Roderman, Jake Bieber, and Sarah Platanitis.
Our theme music was created by Luis Ingles, a songwriter and composer based in Perth, Australia, who is diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. To find out more about Refocused Together or to share your story with me, head over to adhdonline.com and check out the ADHD Awareness Month page, which highlights this project as well as each day’s episode after they’ve been released. You can also find out more by following along on social @lindsayguetnzel and @RefocusedPod.