When BetterHelp was young: the early years

Steven Loeb · November 11, 2020 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/5132
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BetterHelp and Vator have teamed up for Becoming Us, a virtual group therapy program

Our when they were young series is a look back at the modest days of startups, what traction they had in their first few years, and how they evolved. In the end, we hope to provide a glimpse into what great startups looked like in their first three years.

Stories like these are always well received because it reminds us that anyone, regardless of pedigree and environment, can rise above the noise and have great influence. They show us the value of being resilient, persistent, and committed. If we can follow their footsteps, maybe we too can have similar success.

This segment is on BetterHelp.

— BetterHelp's First Year —

Founders: Alon Matas, Danny Bragonier

Founded: BetterHelp, originally known as Compile, Inc. is incorporated in Delaware on October 24, 2012.

The idea for the company comes from when Matas is running a startup called MediaBoost. He gets so stressed that he decides he needs to take advantage of mental health services, he told Vator in 2019.

"On my previous startup I had, as all startups do, ups and down and highs and lows. It got to a point where I thought professional counseling could be useful to me, not from a professional point of view, but a personal point of view, from all the stress and drama sometimes even depression that this life, and the lack of work-life balance, can create," Matas said.

On top of that personal experience, Matas also came across statistics on just how wide and broad the mental health problem is, with about 25 percent of people needing mental health support, but half of them not getting it thanks to such as the cost, the stigma, the inconvenience, and the stress that’s involved.

"I’m not coming from a health background or a counseling background, so, just as a consumer, it surprised me how difficult, inaccessible, expensive, inconvenient, opaque, almost antiquated this experience was of finding a counselor was. That's also true even when you think about how counseling is being delivered. When that startup got sold and I left the company, this problem kept bugging me as something that needed to be done. It’s a huge market, one with a lot of need, and people who need help. Technology is not doing anything to help them, it’s the same old system, with tons of barriers," he said.

"I thought that, with technology, we can solve some of these problems and lower these barriers."

Accelerator, at nine months from launch: In July 2013, BetterHelp joins the Plug and Play Tech Center.

"I came across Plug and Play in one of the meetups, I think that was the Silicon Valley Health meetup, done every third Tuesday of the month. So it was in one of them. I was quite impressed by the place, it was super easy to get in. I mean, we were literally working within an hour of walking into the building, which we found to be great," says Matas.  

Launch, at 11 months from founding: In September 2013, BetterHelp launches out of beta. 

— BetterHelp's Second Year —

Presentation, at one year and five months from founding, six months from launch: In March 2014, Matas presents at an SV Health event at Plug and Play. 

"BetterHelp offered ecounseling via email (a preferred method from users) with over 80+ qualified counselors to users (currently 500+ users) at $35/wk. Shows promise!" one of the attendees writes.

— BetterHelp's Third Year —

Press mention, at two years from founding, one year and one month from launch: In October 2014, BetterHelp is mentioned in a story from the Wall Street Journal entitled, "All-You-Can-Text Therapy Services."

"My BetterHelp therapist asked the same kinds of thought-provoking questions as the traditional therapists I worked with in the past. (What is it about your future that you’re unsure of? Can you tell me about your old life and what is different now?) Because of the continuing, open-ended nature of the text chat, however, she helped me identify anxiety triggers and coping mechanisms much faster than it would have taken had we met only once a week. What’s more, I came to find that launching the BetterHelp site on my smartphone or laptop and writing out my thoughts became therapeutic in itself."

Reincorporation, at two years and two months from founding, one year and three months from launch: The company is incorporated in California on December 16, 2014 where it states its plan to operate as BetterHelp.  

Acquisition, at two years and three months from founding, one year and four months from launch: In January of 2015, BetterHelp is acquired by telehealth service Teladoc for $3.5 million in cash and a $1.0 million promissory note.

The reason that Matas decides to sell, he tells Vator in 2019, is that Teladoc was the dominant player in the space and it was BetterHelp's best option for succeeding in the market.

"Teladoc had somewhere between 70 to 80 percent of the market, and it’s the only public telehealth company. It has the widest portfolio of products and services, some grown organically, some through acquisition. It is number one in a world where number two is far, far away. So, if you’re thinking about joining forces with a telehealth company, you obviously want to do that with the one that dominates the market and there’s only one," he said.  

"It’s kind of a no-brainer that if you see yourself as a telehealth company, you want to be part of the company that sort of invented telehealth and is the market leader."

Press mention, at two years and five months from founding, one year and six months from launch: In March 2015, BetterHelp is featured in an article in the Atlantic called, "The Computer Will See You Now."

— BetterHelp's Fourth Year —

Traction, at three years and eight months from founding, two years and nine months from launch: By June 2016, BetterHelp has over 800 licensed counselors and over 200,000 users.

Press mention, at three years and eight months from founding, two years and nine months from launch: In June 2016, BetterHelp is reviewed in a piece called "I Tried Online Therapy For A Month & This Is What Happened."

"But the online arrangement actually worked really well with the position I'm in in my life right now— that is, super busy, but also interested in having someone to talk to — and I started to see how something like Talkspace or Betterhelp really does provide a great option to people who can't or won't access traditional therapy, but who also aren't requiring in-depth mental health support. And really, who couldn't benefit from having a therapist to chat to?" the article says.

— BetterHelp's Fifth Year —

Traction, at four years and two months from founding, three years and three months from launch: By December 2016, BetterHelp says it has one million total sign-ups.

Study, at four years and seven months from founding, three years and eight months from launch: In May 2017, a study from Enitan Marcelle, a UC Berkeley researcher, and Dr. Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., from the Berkeley Well-Being Institute, finds that among 317 participants who had been receiving counseling through BetterHelp, a majority had improvement in their depression symptoms.

“This important study reinforces the feedback we are hearing from members and therapists every day,” Matas says in a statement. “People tell us how BetterHelp has finally enabled them to get professional counseling, and how this experience has literally changed their lives. While this study focused specifically on the work we do at BetterHelp, it joins other recent comprehensive studies which demonstrated the efficacy and overwhelming impact of getting help online.”

Partnership, at four years and 11 months from founding, four years from launch: In September 2017, BetterHelp partners with Mindcology, a platform that provides articles and videos on the topics of mental health, self-help and the mind-brain connection.

— BetterHelp Today —

As of 2018, BetterHelp had over $60 million in annual revenue. In 2020, downloads of BetterHelp's app in the U.S. grew from 50,000 in January to 80,000 in April, a 60 percent increase.

In June 2020, BetterHelp and Vator teamed up to launch Becoming Us, a series of virtual group therapy sessions, centered around topic such as parenting, relationships and purpose. 

(Our next event on this topic is happening on November 19. Register here. The event is free and anyone is free to share their story, or just listen in to what others have to say)

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