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Celine Tien: Getting in the Flow to Help Manage Pain and Anxiety

Celine Tien: Getting in the Flow to Help Manage Pain and Anxiety

Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be talking to entrepreneur Celine Tien, the founder and CEO of Flowly, who is working to make the world a better and calmer place! Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Welcome Celine! I’m really excited to talk to you and hear about your experience launching Flowly! Can you start by telling me what challenge you’re addressing?

Celine: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! We believe everyone should have access to pain and anxiety management. For us, it is key that we increase access to data and therapeutic tools that are backed by science and designed through user input. Flowly is for people serious about creating daily comfort in their lives because of chronic health conditions. We build relaxing virtual reality (VR) worlds that empower people with easy-to-access biofeedback.

Spiffy: Oh wow! That sounds amazing! What motivated you to address anxiety and pain management?

Celine: I grew up around people in extreme pain—terminal stage pancreatic cancer patients. Many people close to me passed away from morphine overdose and not cancer itself. Growing up around people in pain gave me deep insights into this experience, including that pain is a bio-psycho-social disease. There is physical pain, but there is also mental and social pain. In case studies, we've seen firsthand how Flowly has been able to help reduce pain by 46%, and in clinical trials at UPMC it has actually helped patients reduce pain medication usage. Seeing such a real impact in people's lives drives us to keep going.

Spiffy: This sounds very promising, Celine! Can you talk about how you and your organization are working at creating a more equitable world? 

Celine: One in three Americans suffers from chronic pain. The problem is, current pain management is hard to access, or often, unsafe. Worse, most chronic pain patients are women and they often get denied access to care management because they aren't taken seriously. Flowly is a mobile platform for pain and anxiety care. We use beautiful virtual reality worlds combined with biofeedback training to help people feel more relaxed, comfortable, and in control of their bodies. Flowly is designed to be accessible as a mobile app, and comprehensive by addressing the physical, psychological, and even social aspects of pain and anxiety.

A user trying one of the virtual reality experiences on Flowly. (Image courtesy of Celine Tien)

Spiffy: Since pain and anxiety can strike at any time or place, it sounds like you’ve made Flowly very versatile! Can you tell me about a recent milestone?

Celine: You're right, Spiffy! We recently launched our beta version so that anyone on the Apple App Store can download and try Flowly. We're excited to make it available to people who can benefit from it especially because we spent so long in case studies and working with the top doctors at UPMC, NIH, and USC (University of Southern California) to validate the science. We're also almost finished with controlled clinical trials at UPMC which makes a huge impact on the future of chronic care, as well as innovation in healthcare.

Spiffy: I am always curious how social entrepreneurs deal with failure. What about you Celine? Can you share about an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up?

Celine: I felt like my college application experience was a failure. It's been quite a few years since that experience, but it remains poignant for me because of the shock of being waitlisted at all the schools I liked felt absolutely defeating at the time. However, I learned from my mom you should always be empowered to ask the right questions. So that's exactly what  I did. I knocked on the doors of the admissions officers and I asked how I could put myself in a position to still be considered. It was nerve-racking but worth it. I ended up going to the school I had hoped to, but most importantly, I now am never scared to speak up for myself and ask the right questions.

Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything you’ve learned—a lesson perhaps—that you could tell us about? 

Celine: Well, Spiffy, I've been learning patience. It's something I've learned slowly from both my family and team members because while I'm naturally a very impatient person, I've realized how critical patience can be in listening to others, listening to yourself, and being present in each moment.

Spiffy: It sounds like Flowly has been working on you too, Celine! I can’t wait to try it out! And I’d highly recommend an outer space VR experience—I can attest to its calming effects! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, Celine, it’s been an honor!


Celine Tien is the founder and CEO of Flowly, a mobile app for chronic pain and anxiety management. She led the team to become one of the youngest companies to be awarded a $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH). Previously, Celine worked in feature development at DreamWorks Animation in Shanghai and Los Angeles. She grew up as a film/TV actor and model and is a graduate of Yale University.

© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog