Successful entrepreneur Erik Nielsen has more than 20 years of experience in strategic planning, marketing, and advertising. He used his experience to create his latest product, TAG, an online treatment platform for those suffering with anxiety and depression. The platform allows viewers to see how anxiety and depression affects top artists and creative industry professionals through videos. This is paired with world-class clinicians, who provide treatment options to help alleviate the symptoms they might be experiencing.

Erik Nielsen Interview

Leah Marriott: Tell us about your business background.

Erik Nielsen: I started my career as a software developer with Accenture and maintained a technical/digital backbone as I transitioned into a 20-year career in marketing and advertising. I was blessed to work with some of the biggest and best brands in the world including Nike, The Oprah Winfrey Network, Microsoft, Proctor & Gamble, XBOX, FedEx, Yahoo, eBay and many others - both creating advertising campaigns as well as crafting brand strategies. I most recently led Marketing Strategy for Southwest Airlines and was responsible for delivering $23B in annual revenues.

LM: You previously created an award-winning game and a dating app, tell us about them.

EN: I developed a board game called LINQ, which plays like "poker with words." The game sold at Walmart, Barnes & Noble, Target, and all the big-box retailers in the US.

LINQ then went on to flourish in 13 other countries. A few years ago, I was contacted by the global Gaming commission and received news that LINQ had won a nomination for Global Game of the Year. It was a humbling experience being a the Cannes Game Festival in the South of France signing autographs with 250,000 passionate gamers in attendance.

It's a wonderful community of people that I feel blessed to be a part of.

I'm a big believer in the power of games and that later translated into a dating app I launched called "2 Truths and a Lie" in which users try to guess a persons lie to make a connection. It served as a great icebreaker and we were able to break through the hurdle that many dating apps face where you see lots of connections but little, meaningful conversation.

LM: Your latest invention is called TAG - What inspired that?

EN: TAG is my current focus and my passion; I'd go so far to say it's my calling. I like to say that God blessed me with three beautiful gifts: (1) the opportunity to market at a world-class level, (2) the ability to create games that truly engage and inspire people, and (3) and this is the most important one, he gave me three, massive bouts of suicidal depression. I come from a great family, have had a great career, and am married to a wonderful woman. So why I had those three bouts baffled me. Mine was related to connecting with the wrong medications that threw me into the dark abyss of depression - something I wouldn't wish for my worst enemy.

It's the worst emotion a human can experience.

Standing back from those three gifts and piecing them together, I had an epiphany recently. I think the reason God put me on the planet is to use my first two gifts to solve the third one - but to do so for millions of people, and to do so in an affordable and accessible way. That's our mission with the TAG Team.

LM: Describe TAG in five words.

EN: TAG is Xbox for Anxiety.

LM: What would you like to achieve with TAG over the next twelve months?

EN: We are first conducting a closed Beta phase that will serve as a large scale focus group. The reason is to clearly be able to articulate our efficacy. We've seen really positive results from our early trials and we're now ramping up to generate lots of user activity and gameplay data.

That data will then be used by the universities that we're partnered with to generate a series of white papers that will show in clear language how effective the platform is as a treatment aid for anxiety and depression.

During the Beta phase, we will also be generating content at scale for the official launch - aiming to create 1,000 "challenge videos" that will serve as the basis of the game for our users.

We plan is to be at the full launch in 120 days, and we're on track to meet that milestone.

LM: What advice can you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

EN: I got a great piece of advice from a mentor a long time ago that always stuck with me. In the military, there's a story about a soldier who's trekking through difficult terrain.

He comes to what looks like an insurmountable wall to climb over. In his rucksack is everything that he needs to survive. So, what do you do? As an entrepreneur, like that soldier, you throw your rucksack over the wall. Now, you only have one choice: you gear up, get the adrenaline pumping, and you get over that damn wall - because there's only death on the side you're currently on. Your lifeline is now on the other side of that wall so you'll do anything to get over it.

I truly believe that hope is not a strategy. Successful entrepreneurs will do anything to succeed and will not stop until they do. I've been fortunate to have worked with great teams and we've launched 15 companies from scratch - all with varying degrees of success.

The most successful of those start-ups followed the rucksack model. Our teams all leaned in together and said we're doing this. There was never a question of "if," it was only a sharp, relentless focus on "how."

LM: Biggest business achievement?

EN: I'd like to think my biggest business achievement was my first entrepreneurial endeavour. I created a swim team while attending college in San Diego to help pay for school and it blossomed into a year-round, USA Swimming competitive team with over 100 members. In only four years we sent several kids to college on swimming scholarships. Working with and seeing children grow and develop creates a level of pride and satisfaction that you simply don't see from many corporate roles.

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