Keeping it Real: An app to solve our mental health crisis
To say that 2020 was a crazy year is putting it mildly. According to the CDC, 40% of US adults are now struggling with a mental health issue, up from 20% pre-pandemic.
But it was also the year we finally began having a public and long-overdue conversation about these issues. Celebrities like Taylor Swift and athletes like Simone Biles came forward with their own struggles, which made it easier for the rest of us to acknowledge that we too may need help.
At Lightspeed, we’ve always believed technology has a huge role to play in promoting good mental fitness. That’s one reason why we invested in Calm, the leading app for meditation and sleep and the first mental health unicorn.
Mental health was the number one prediction in my biggest trends of 2021, and we believe the ability to inspire happiness will be a key component of many successful tech startups moving forward.
That’s one of the reasons why we’re thrilled to announce that Lightspeed is leading a $10 million Series A round in Real, a mobile subscription service that makes high-quality mental healthcare accessible to the masses.
A digital-first approach
One-on-one therapy is a wonderful and necessary tool for coping with problems like anxiety and depression, but it’s incredibly hard to scale and the experience itself is not a preferred coping tool for many people. Even in a group setting, a single therapist can help only a handful of people at a time.
Real solves that problem by turning therapy into a one-to-many platform that’s far more affordable and accessible than traditional treatments. For just $28 a month, members can choose from several therapy pathways addressing topics such as overcoming depression, understanding your anger, improving your relationship with body image, and finding fulfillment amidst career uncertainties. The sessions are informed by top-tier clinical research, but delivered in an informal and human way that feels personalized for every member. Members can also access a rich library of content, and join communities with others experiencing similar life stages — the good and the bad — without compromising their privacy.
There are many reasons we are excited about Real’s potential. Here are our top five:
- Healthcare is becoming digital first. One positive thing to come out of the pandemic is the accelerated acceptance of telemedicine by providers, insurers, and patients. In fact, Real started out as a way to deliver in-person therapy, but when the pandemic began spreading and people were urged to shelter in place, the founders pivoted to a digital-first approach in just eight days. That’s when it really started to take off.
- Real is affordable. Traditional 1:1 therapy sessions cost anywhere from $65 to $250 per session, which limit the number of people who can afford care. Real’s affordable price point ($28/mo) enables more people to receive the care they need.
- The total addressable market is huge. Each year we spend nearly $240 billion on mental health services in the US alone. One out of five adults is living with a mental health issue, but less than half are being treated, in part because the cost of therapy is prohibitive. Real solves that. It’s also seeing strong interest from corporations, universities, and insurance companies.
- Engagement is through the roof. In the physical world, 20% to 40% of patients see a therapist once and never return. At Real, their retention is amongst the highest we’ve seen. Just as Alcoholics Anonymous allows people to meet in group based therapy on a regular basis, so too does Real offer a community approach which drives both high engagement and retention.
- Exceptional, product-driven leaders. Dr. Nina Vasan, MD, is founder and executive director of Stanford’s Mental Health Innovation lab. She also chairs the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Innovation. Ariela Safira studied clinical psychology at Columbia and has worked for companies like IDEO and Cityblock Health. Ariela and Nina are both impressive leaders with innovative ideas and a powerful feel for product fit.
A well deserved break
There are multiple startups addressing our collective need for greater mental health, and new ones seem to appear each week. But none have Real’s affordable price point, on-demand offering, community feel, and expansive set of ‘pathways’ to choose from. Real has the potential to improve the mood and well-being of millions.
After the year we’ve all just been through, we deserve it.
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