Features, Off-Campus Profiles, Profiles

Emotional Pokemon: In Shad’s Voidpet App, Users Embrace Emotional Awareness

Linda Shad was living in a “hacker house” near Silicon Valley, Calif. with several other coders when she said she had an intense mental breakdown. She had just graduated from Boston College with a degree in computer science and decided to move across the country and work for a startup. 

But things were not going according to plan. Shad said she was broke and depressed—she felt hopeless.

And then she started to draw. She channeled her emotions into her drawings. She drew her anger and her anxiety as creatures. These drawings soon became the basis of Shad’s first successfully launched app: Voidpet. 

“It started with me just having a really bad day,” Shad said.

Voidpet is an app where users adopt and befriend their emotions. Emotions are depicted as pets, and the user chooses which self-care activities they want to implement in real life to earn points and level up their “voidpets.” Shad launched the app in February of 2023. Since its debut, Voidpet has garnered around 500,000 users, she said.

Shad, BC ’20, described Voidpet as a Pokémon-style game that improves your emotional awareness and mental health by encouraging users to incorporate self-care into their daily lives. 

“I think the goal of the app specifically is just to make self-care more entertaining and more accessible for everybody, like even for people who have no familiarity with mental health, people who have never considered going to therapy or never been able to afford therapy,” Shad said. 

Shad dreamed of being a CEO as a child, but she never imagined she would become an app developer. She loved playing Pokémon, and in high school she designed a simple online game in class, but her favorite part of the process was bringing her drawings to life. She loved designing things and creating art. 

“I realized I just really liked connecting the wires behind the scenes to make my art or my stories come to life,” Shad said. 

When Shad met John Gallaugher, who teaches an IOS development course at BC, he solidified her interest in app development. During her freshman orientation at BC, Gallaugher ran a panel featuring BC graduates who started successful apps after learning to code at BC. 

“That was actually the thing that really sparked me to fall in love with BC,” Shad said. “It’s so cool that there’s this community and these people who are building great things at such an early age from what they learned in college.”

Shad enrolled in Gallaugher’s IOS development course. Gallaugher said he designed it to arm students with the technical skills they need to build their own apps.

“The reason that I started that class was because we would have a lot of students that were ‘Want-trepreneurs’ with a W,” Gallaugher said. “And the reason why they couldn’t make the transition to entrepreneur was because they didn’t have the technical skills to build their vision.”

The course, which Shad said was crucial in elevating her coding capabilities, is all-encompassing—by the end of the semester, each student walks out with a technologically advanced app they can show to recruiters as a display of their skills.  

“We’re really the only course in the country that allows students to learn how to be serious app developers in a single semester if you’ve never programmed before,” Gallaugher said.

In the class, Shad produced an app called Mac Daddy that allowed students to anonymously share their BC dining dollars with each other. This app was an early indicator of Shad’s inclination to build products that bring people together, Gallaugher said. 

“I think that that really showed that Linda has always had an interest in building community and connecting others,” Gallaugher said. 

During her time at BC, Shad balanced her interest in graphic design with her drive to become the best coder she could. She later worked as a teaching assistant for Gallaugher’s IOS development course—this experience gave her more confidence in her technical competencies, she said. Outside of the classroom, Shad designed and drew content for BC’s Computer Science Society and the Asian Caucus.

After graduating in 2020, Shad dove headfirst into the world of startups. When she moved to California, Shad worked for several startups. But she said these experiences were unfulling—both financially and personally. 

Shad’s drawings were what saved her from spiraling in Silicon Valley, she said, as they provided her with a new sense of direction and an outlet for expression. One day, she posted her art on TikTok. Soon enough, her drawings drew attention, with many of her videos getting over hundreds of thousands of views. 

“I was just posting drawings on social media instead, and that turned out to be doing better than all of my startups,” Shad said. 

After she suddenly gained TikTok fame, amassing over 200,000 followers in just a year, Shad got a job at Beacons, an AI platform offering tools for online creators. The company is known for its “link-in-bio” tools that allow influencers to link to multiple websites within their social media profiles. 

Through working with online content creators at Beacons, Shad said she learned how to turn app designing into a business. She realized the power that influencing and promoting your ideas on social media held in determining the popularity of your app. 

“You don’t have to just build an app and then hope it turns into a business,” Shad said. “You can build an audience and then use that to build the app that then turns into a business.”

Just when Shad had finally put all the pieces of launching an app together in her head, Ben Awad—a social media influencer who makes content about gaming and coding—pushed her to start pursuing the concept full-time. 

After seeing the impressive engagement Shad had on her posts of her drawings and hearing about Shad’s idea to turn those drawings into an app, Awad suggested that Shad take two actions to launch her game-building journey—first, post 100 TikTok videos a week about the app, and second, create a waitlist for the game so interested people can add themselves to it. 

“I literally did exactly that,” Shad said. “I did 100 videos in the first week. And then I got ten million views and like 300,000 signups on my waitlist.”

The waitlist sign ups kept coming in. At this time, Shad started to seriously think about how she would make Voidpet a reality. She and Awad, who is Voidpet’s co-founder, spent a year building a beta website version of the game, which they released to the public a couple of months before the full app launch in February of 2023.

(Photo Courtesy of Linda Shad)

Since the app’s full launch, Shad said the Voidpet team has raised around $800,000 in funding. Recently, the app was financially backed by Speedrun, a gaming accelerator program run by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), a technology-focused venture capital firm. 

The first versions of the app did not have many mental health–focused features. But Shad listened to user feedback on Discord, a messaging app home to many gaming community forums, and started to notice just how many users valued the mental health features the app did have. Users who had never meditated before tried it for the first time after the app suggested it and said it changed their lives, Shad said. 

Ashlynne Floyd, who manages the Voidpet Discord page, said the user community surrounding Voidpet is compassionate and unique. Within the Discord page, users create inside jokes and check in on each other. And, because Shad speaks frequently with users and Floyd, users get a say in how the app is developed and improved. Compared to other apps, Voidpet’s development team is extremely sensitive to user demand, Floyd said.

“It’s cool how I, a random person on the internet, was able to meet with Linda and we developed a working relationship where I can kind of have an influence on the game,” Floyd said. 

Most self-care apps feel disingenuous to Floyd, but Voidpet feels real. Taking care of your Voidpet “pets” is both fun and healthy for the user, she said. 

“These are pets that aren’t like extensions of us or anything, but we engage them in a way to kind of understand our mental health,” Floyd said. 

By making a list of what they are grateful for, meditating, or setting goals for themselves, users can level up their emotion creatures in the app. Shad said little actions like these are the key to taking care of your mental health during a stressful day. 

“That can be the breather that people often need to recalibrate after spiraling downwards,” she said.

In many inventive ways, Gallaugher said, Voidpet encourages users to invest time into their emotional well-being and mental health.

“When you speak to a counselor, they’ll mention things like ‘label your emotions,’ and that that’s a useful exercise to be involved in and that’s actually precisely what Voidpet is doing,” he said.

When users take small but meaningful steps in their self-care journey, they improve their relationship with their emotions, Shad said. With Voidpet, by taking care of lighthearted drawings of little creatures, anyone can work to strengthen their emotional awareness.

“Something that you might have thought was stupid or trivial is actually really game changing,” Shad said. “A little goes a long way.”

September 10, 2023