March 24, 2020

#23: Alex Katz, CEO of Two Chairs

In today’s episode, Joe Vennare is joined by Alex Katz, CEO of Two Chairs, a mental health startup providing access to in-person psychotherapy.

The two talk about:

  • Destigmatizing mental health
  • The difference between wellness and healthcare
  • Why Two Chairs is focused on providing in-person therapy over purely digital services.

Check out an overview of the conversation below or listen to the entire episode for more.

 

What problems exist with the mental health system?

AK: First, stigma. Mental illness and psychotherapy are not well understood. And there’s a lot of people not seeking out help who would really benefit them. 

Second is access. It’s an incredibly complex system. It’s super fragmented. And it’s very challenging for someone experiencing a depressive episode or panic attack to figure out how to get help. 

And finally, quality is a concern. The mental health system does some great work, but it’s of a mixed quality. We see a lot of opportunity to systematically provide higher quality services in this area.

How do you combat stigma to engage users?

AK:  We’re living in a moment where more people are opening up about their experiences with mental illness. I think it’s creating a real sea change around how people think about mental health in this country. 

We’ve set out to build a brand and a consumer experience on par with all the other fantastic health and wellness experiences that we value.

From our website and Instagram to our clinics, you’ll see a clean, modern aesthetic. Our customer experience is meant to feel warm, welcoming, and inviting. That alone represents an important shift. We’re showing people that mental health is no different than your fitness or wellness routines — you cherish them and they’re a big part of how you stay healthy. 

What sets Two Chairs apart?

AK: We take people through a digital onboarding experience where we’re getting to know them  in basic ways. Then, they actually come to one of our offices to meet with a clinician in person. During this meeting, we take the time to really understand the nuance of who you are as a human being and what you’re looking for.

All of that data gets fed into software we’ve built to match you with a therapist who’s going to be a great fit. We think of the matching process as being one of the really unique contributions we’re making to the field — it’s a real differentiator relative to other mental health systems.

How do you address cost and coverage limitations?

AK: The affordability of mental health has plagued the system from day one. Unfortunately, a lot of the blame lies with health plans and health insurance companies that historically haven’t invested enough in this area.

We’re trying to help people navigate the system, making it as easy as possible. This might sound trivial from the perspective of other consumer industries, but we put our price on our websites, and we try to make it very clear what a course of care would look like at Two Chairs.

Second, we help people utilize their out-of-network benefits. A lot of people don’t know they have benefits  or how to use them. We’ve invested in building technology and creating a care coordination team to help people understand those benefits.

We haven’t solved the affordability challenge for everyone, but we think it’s made a really big dent in the problem. In the long run, we want to figure out how we can integrate ourselves even more deeply into the healthcare system to create more access.

What are some current goals for Two Chairs?

AK: Our goal is to build a high quality outpatient healthcare services business. With that  foundation we can scale this system to as many people as possible.

We’re thinking about expanding our service line to increase access. An example would be group therapy, which is something we’ve done a little bit of so far.

We’re also committed to proving the quality of our services. A big piece of what we do is measuring the care we provide, and that data demonstrates to clients, health plans, etc., that we’re creating value and are efficiently getting people to great outcomes from care. Quantifying this impact will compel a client and health plan to invest more in mental health.

What’s the big vision you pitch to investors?

AK: In the early days, investors got excited about the market opportunity. The behavioral health services market in the US is massive. There’s a huge need and most people with mental illness don’t get treatment, so it’s a growing and expandable market. 

That, combined with the number of people waking up to the fact that this stuff matters — we need to be talking and thinking about mental health a lot more.

There’s been a lot of activity around pure digital interventions for mental health, but there really hasn’t been that much work done to modernize the in-person care experience, and those touchpoints are essential. The relationship you develop with a therapist or a care provider is at the core of e why therapy works and why other types of mental health services work.The opportunity to innovate at the intersection of in-person care and technology got folks really excited. 

More recently, investors are excited because we’re growing the business extremely quickly. We’re seeing word-of-mouth drive the majority of our client acquisition or just hearing incredible stories from the clients that we’re helping through our services.

How do you see the mental health category evolving?

AK: Our belief is that the stigma around this category will continue to decrease and fade away, and we’re going to have a lot of people looking for help and mental health services. 

We think the mental health system needs to create really easy access points so people don’t  have to answer the hard questions on their own.

We think this is headed toward a much more integrated care experience combining the best of in-person care and digital touchpoints. We believe digital tools matter, and they can be incredible compliments to a therapeutic relationship, but the relationship has to remain at the core of care.

**Note: Alex’s answers have been edited for brevity and cohesion.

About Alex Katz:

Alex Katz is the founder and CEO of Two Chairs, which provides high-quality psychotherapy at thoughtfully-designed clinics across the Bay Area.

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