AI-powered mental health platform Wysa raises $5.5M

Steven Loeb · May 20, 2021 · Short URL:

The company focuses on people who need help, but don't have diagnosable conditions

Literally everyone needs some kind of help with their mental health; the question is, what kind of care do they need? On one end of the spectrum are those with diagnosable, clinical conditions which can be treated with medication. On the other end are people who are simply stressed and need nothing more than a little bit of help to get them back on track.

What about the people in the middle, those who need more help than just yoga, but who have conditions that are not so severe that they need medication? These people are who Jo Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO of AI-powered mental health startup Wysa, which announced a $5.5 million Series A financing round on Thursday, calls "the missing middle of mental health."  

"Wysa came out of my own depression. I had founder depression, after my first product, which was trying to be eldercare, failed. Then, trying to solve my own depression, I learned quite a bit about mental health," she told me.

"What I realized was that many people are not quite clinically depressed, so they don't want to medicalize their condition or be diagnosed, but, at the same time, they're much worse off than being told to do mindfulness or yoga."

In fact, Wysa’s own internal data shows that the majority, 60%, of the population falls into that gap: these are people struggle with things like negative thoughts, anxiety, isolation or sleep issues. They want to work on improving their situation themselves rather than seeking clinical support.

Wysa's solution is to use a mix of humans and AI. Patients are connected with an AI-based 'emotionally intelligent' that will helps them through a combination of evidence-based cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), meditation, breathing, yoga, motivational interviewing and micro-actions. They also get access to a human coach or therapist, who assists them in achieving their goals.

"One of the biggest things that Wysa therapists do is they give you a safe space to talk. I wanted to combine being able to be guided to evidence-based techniques, while having a completely private space to talk," said Aggarwal.

Founded in 2015, the Bangalore-based Wysa allows patients to access care 24/7; they can open up to Wysa in just a few messages, and complete CBT, DBT, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), mindfulness and coaching exercises in just five to ten minutes.

While there are many other companies offering virtual mental health solutions, including Ginger, Talkspace, and AmWell, one thing that sets Wysa apart is that it allows users to chat anonymously. In fact, the company recommends users choose a dummy name, or a nickname, in their conversations with either Wysa or with a Wysa coach or therapist. 

"One of the things that is very important to us is creating this safe space, and people, especially in an employment situation, but anywhere on the internet, they don't think that they’re safe if somebody knows who they are," Aggarwal explained.

"In a therapist setting they're assured of this, but in a healthcare setting, where somebody is actually talking about everything they’re feeling, the one thing that is very important to safety is not just keeping that data secure, but to keep that data completely personally unidentifiable. Nobody's actual personal safety is being compromised or can be linked back to them. So, that's important."

One of the big changes for Wysa over the last year has been the transition from being a B2C company to being more of a B2B company, and increasingly working with those employer clients who offer it to their employees. Both the B2B and B2C sides businesses grew about 5x to 6x over the last year in terms of revenue, while B2B users grew by about 3x. The Wysa platform is now being used by 20 enterprise partners around the world, including Accenture and Aetna International; Accenture rolled out Wysa to 500,000 employees across 53 countries over the last year. 

Wysa has facilitated over 100 million conversations with more than 3 million users, and covers over 10 million lives in over 65 countries worldwide.

In terms of ROI, over 90% of users say Wysa helps them feel better after just one session, and over 75% of users have more than five sessions. For its employer customers, there are two types of ROI that the company looks at, said Aggarwal, one being the increase in engagement, which is harder to measure, and reduction in absenteeism, which is easy to calculate.

"When we intervene with somebody who has a secondary behavioral health issue, like it might be somebody with chronic pain or someone who's on a short term disability, you can see how soon they come back to work versus somebody who doesn't get intervention. So, reducing the time off work in terms of short term versus long term disability, that’s a clearer ROI," she explained.

Wysa's new funding round led by W Health Ventures. The Google Assistant Investment program, and existing investors pi Ventures and Kae Capital, also participated, bringing the company's total funding to around $10 million. The company plays to use the new funding to support to expand its operations in the U.S., and that means expanding its 60-member team. In addition, the funding will also go toward expanding the platform to new languages, including Spanish.

Wysa is coming along as the conversation around mental health is changing; part of that is how the discussion is framed, going from religious phraseology to social phraseology, and now medical phraseology.

"People tend to medicalize their distress. People have been very much, much more willing to call their genuine distress by mental health, names, which sometimes are accurate, but mostly are not diagnosed. Then they have definitely been more open because that also normalizes so they're more open to speaking now," Aggarwal said.

The other thing that has happened, especially post-pandemic, is that more people are willing to admit they have a problem.

"Up until the pandemic I used to always hear about how one in four people have depression or anxiety and are going to suffer from a mental health illness in their life. And now there is no one in four; there is one in one. Everybody realizes that they need something for mental health," she said.

"The conversation is moving outside the medicalized condition, and beyond the meditation. These are people who know they need something to help them, but they are not medically ill. They are not going to be clinically diagnosed and they need something to help."

Ultimately, Wysa's mission is to increase people's confidence in their ability to help their own mental health. 

"If people are not yet in therapy and they need it, we want them to have the confidence that they can access this. If they have been in therapy, we want to give them the confidence that they can manage it by themselves as well, to make it an ongoing thing where they are empowered to take care of their own selves. And to do it for as many people as possible."

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Jo Aggarwal

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CEO and founder of Wysa, AI for mental health.