Alex Katz, founder of Two Chairs, on his efforts to erase the stigma around mental illness

Steven Loeb · March 13, 2019 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/4d74

Two Chairs, which uses a matching app to pair up therapists and patients, recently raised $7M

 

It has been fascinating to watch the mental health space over the last few years; as the conversation over mental health has shifted in the culture, investors now seem more open to putting money behind these companies in a way they never were before. It's a space that is growing quickly, with the number of companies getting funding, and the amount being invested, both rising steadily in recent years. 

This year has been no different. In February, Calm raised $88 million in Series B funding to become the first mental health unicorn, while companies like AbleTo, Mindstrong, Unmind and Manual raised funding rounds as well.

One of the most recent companies to pick up funding is Two Chairs, which operates its own mental health clinics around the Bay Area, deploying a client-therapist matching system to pair the right patient with the right therapist. Last month, the company raised a $7 million round of funding from Maveron, Goldcrest, and Amplo, bringing its total raised to $8 million. 

Alex Katz, founder of Two Chairs, spoke to VatorNews about the new round, the evolution of the mental health space and his efforts to erase the stigma around mental illness.

VatorNews: What is the problem that Two Chairs is trying to solve? What is your solution?

Alex Katz: I set out to start Two Chairs when I saw my partner’s struggles to find a therapist, and witnessed her journey to find one she connected with. I soon learned that her struggle navigating the mental healthcare system in her time of need was all too common, so I decided to do something about it.

Two Chairs is rebuilding the mental healthcare system from the ground up by addressing the three primary systemic problems: the stigma around mental illness, the enormous difficulty to even access care, and the lack of consistent quality in the services provided.

At Two Chairs, we’re rebuilding our nation’s mental healthcare system by enabling thoughtful client-therapist relationships by leveraging a client-therapist matching system. We’re also opening modern, welcoming therapy clinics that make people feel cared for, building an expert clinical team with backgrounds and styles as diverse as our client base, and developing software to enable us to measure and personalize care along the way—making sure that our clients see real results.

We're serving the entire San Francisco Bay Area, from San Francisco to Oakland, Redwood City to, soon, San Jose and excited to continue growing to serve more people and communities in the future.

VN: Who is the typical customer for Two Chairs? Walk me through some use cases.

AK: At Two Chairs, we don’t have a “typical” customer -- we believe that everyone can benefit from therapy, and our client base reflects this. Two Chairs serves and supports all identities through supportive, unbiased, and non-judgmental practices and spaces.

What's most exciting is that in addition to having clients who have been in therapy before, we have many clients who are trying it for the first time. They're coming to us not only for issues like anxiety or depression, but also to address with stress in their work environments, insomnia and difficulty sleeping, or with the desire to improve their relationships.

VN: How many customers do you currently have? How are you growing?

AK: Fundamentally, we're a community-based business. We believe in the power of human, in-person relationships so our growth is tied to opening physical, brick and mortar clinics. We know this is the most impactful for our clients.

I can't share specific numbers about our client base, but I am motivated and excited by how many people we’ve been able to serve so far. Since 2017, we've opened 4 clinics across the Bay Area and are on track to open many more this year. This growth speaks to the profound need in the mental healthcare system, and we’re seeing a lot of demand for our services as a result.

VN: What kind of ROI have your customers seen from using the platform? Do you have any numbers you can share?

AK: Of the many benefits that clients experience as a result of therapy, we’ve helped clients achieve their goals in having more fulfilling relationships, being more productive at work, and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Looking a bit more closely at our matching system over the past 2 years, we’ve found that the Two Chairs matching method has proven to be more than 95% effective. And when things change or we don't get it right, we're able to adjust course and quickly re-match the client based on what we've learned.

VN: What will you be doing with the new funding? Will it go toward product development, hiring, expansion? Please give me as much detail as you can.

AK: Everything comes back to our mission of building a world where we all have access to exceptional mental health care. In practice, this means investing in the people and technology that enable great care and accelerating our clinic growth to serve as many clients as possible.

On the people side, we’re investing in talent to make our mission a reality -- from clinicians to operations team members. On the technology side, we’re hiring engineers and investing in technology that enables excellent care and a seamless experience.

VN: Who are your competitors? What separates Two Chairs from them?

AK: What sets Two Chairs apart from others in the space is our focus on the client-therapist relationship. Research shows that the therapeutic alliance between client and therapist is the best predictor of successful treatment outcomes. Historically, there has been little to no discussion of how to actually match therapists and clients in order to create strong therapeutic alliances. With a talented team of clinicians and engineers, we have built our own matching approach that combines clinical rigor and modern data science.

In addition to our unique matching system, Two Chairs has an expert team of clinicians with training from leading programs and health systems across the country. All clients have access to a care coordination team dedicated to providing concierge support with insurance, billing, and other concerns that arise along the care journey.

Our clinics are also a distinguishing factor—we design our spaces to be warm and welcoming for our community of clients and clinicians.  In addition to being modern, nature-inspired, and comfortable, the clinics are all conveniently located in areas near public transit.

VN: How has the healthtech space, as well as the conversation around mental health, changed in recent years? How has that allowed a company like Two Chairs to thrive?

AK: For a long time, talking about mental health care was so stigmatized that sharing you were in therapy was a quick way to alienate yourself. But today, the conversation around mental health has swelled into the public forum. High-profile actors, musicians, comedians, athletes, business leaders, and even politicians are opening up for the first time about their mental health journeys. It’s clear that mental illness is common, and better, more accessible mental health care is needed.

Because we’re all different, we recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health issues. We believe that there’s room for a lot of different tools for different situations that a client may face. However, we know that while a purely digital connection may be convenient, a deep, trusting relationship is not something easily replicated via a digital interface. Research into the interpersonal connection shows this.

With the development of digital tools in mental health, we should remember that excellent in-person care needs to be at the centerpiece of mental health care.

VN: What is your ultimate goal with Two Chairs? Where do you want to see the company in the next 5 years?

AK: Our ultimate goal with Two Chairs is to build a world where we all have access to exceptional mental healthcare, and my hope for the next five years is that we will have made significant progress in making this mission a reality. Right now, we’re focused on the Bay Area, but new cities and new services beyond individual and group therapy are on the horizon. In short, we want to rebuild the nation’s mental health system—and that means fundamentally changing how people understand, access, and experience mental healthcare.

VN: Is there anything else I should know about the company or the new funding round?

AK: Stay tuned for the locations of our new clinics!

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