In the mist of the pandemic, he shut down his 15-year-old organic ice cream brand Three Twins Ice Cream — where he famously worked at 166 days in a row when he opened his first shop in Terra Linda. A month later his fiancée left him, prompting him to sell his share of their houseboat and move to a fixer-upper in the Muir Woods Park neighborhood.

"I think we have a chance to really change lives," says Neal Gottlieb of Crain. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal

“I think we have a chance to really change lives,” says Neal Gottlieb of Crain.

Experiencing a great sense of loss, Gottlieb did something he’d never done before — therapy. His positive, life-changing experience, along with his desire to help destigmatize it for others, lead him to start Crain, a platform to support first responders with results-oriented mental health tools to combat stress and reduce burnout. He and co-founder Caren Baginski are building an app.

Q How did this come about?

A I had a difficult period and was very fortunate that I had access to good therapy. I was lucky to find a therapist right away and was fortunate to have the resources to afford her. It made a huge difference in getting through the muck, that really awful period, and coming out better than before, certainly much happier than I was and a better communicator. I have the best relationship of my life. I ended up meeting my now wife during all the pain. There’s a huge shortage of therapists, even if money wasn’t an object, so the idea came about like well, what if there is a way to help amplify the impact of therapists? The idea came about as initially a platform to share consensually recorded therapy sessions and that has since evolved.

Q Why first responders?

A I was visiting a cousin in Florida for the wedding of my now two cousins, Miami firefighters, and they started talking to me about what I was doing with the platform. My cousin shared challenges that he faces as a first responder as well as what he sees for others and we started discussing the idea of what if Crain was tailored for first responders, starting with firefighters. Looking at the statistics, firefighters have a suicide ideation rate of around 40% — around 10 times the general population. It’s a huge problem. We are not looking to necessarily be a replacement for therapy, but we think it can be that first step especially for those who hesitate to take that step.

Q Has mental health always been a priority for you?

A It was not. It’s one of those things that I thought about since college, like I probably should go to therapy and work on some things. I definitely had some stigma around it and I never went. It took me being in an absolutely awful place in life to make that decision that is this something I am going to address or something I am going to let ruin my life. Addressing it in the short term isn’t necessarily the easy path, but it’s the better path.

Q Has it helped you to pivot to doing something for other people?

A Yes, that’s a huge motivator for both of us. We both just care deeply about not just building something and having financial success, but also having a real deep impact … and knowing we made a positive difference in people’s lives. It’s an interesting opportunity for us to really help to shape lives for the better, if not, preserve them.

Q Where does your entrepreneurial spirit come from?

A It never occurred to me until after college that I could start a business. I went to Cornell undergraduate and I rowed, and I went back and there was a guy whom I had rowed with, he was two to three years older and he started a pizza business. It clicked that entrepreneurs, for lack of a better example, aren’t the Donald Trumps of the world, but really anyone can take those first steps to become an entrepreneur. It started bubbling then. When I looked back, I was always entrepreneurial, hustling, in some way, shape or form, selling gum in middle school or going door to door shoveling snow as a child in New Jersey. I served my career in corporate America, and I could certainly have taken that route, but there’s that part of me that wants to go into the unknown, have a lot more impact than I could have sitting in a cubicle, and do good. Three Twins certainly had elements of that, like supporting organic agriculture. I am excited about round two. I think we have a chance to really change lives.