Mental health awareness is, and always will be, an important issue. It’s comforting to see that it is growing in relevance. For those who diagnosed with a severe mental illness, one of the most daunting steps is finding the right therapist. Not just one that will help you with treatment, but one that you can trust and open up to.
Sophia Co-Founder and VP of Community Chetan Jhaveri told us the personal story behind the company ’s founding and went into detail about their time at delta v and Techstars. Jhaveri also told us the story of one particular client and how much Sophia helped her.
Colin Barry [CB]: I’m a big fan of the phrase “origin story.” What are the origins of Sophia?
Chetan Jhaveri [CJ]: Our CEO, Eva Breitenbach, started the company after she personally experienced the life-changing difference a quality therapist can make. In December 2015, Eva woke up and found that half her face was paralyzed due to Bell’s Palsy, a condition often linked to stress. She had an excellent therapist who not only listened to her but challenged her key assumptions and helped restructure Eva’s thought processes to better handle anxiety and stress.
I personally got involved after I heard Eva tell that story at an event that I helped to organize at MIT called The Yarn (modeled after The Moth). So many people went up to her after asking how she had found a therapist. When I was going through a period of anxiety and chronic stress, I tried to find a therapist, but no one returned my calls. Since I wasn’t sure whether therapy would help anyways, I just gave up. After listening to Eva’s vision for the company, I felt strongly that we could create a better way to find help so that no one else would fall through the cracks.
CB: What is the ultimate goal of Sophia?
CJ: Our mission is to make it easy to find quality support in a time of need.
CB: Explain what your company does. If it’s a particular software/platform/service/etc. how does it work?
CJ: At Sophia, we make it easy to find the right therapist. We use a tech-driven matchmaking process to pair clients and therapists for in-person therapy sessions. The result for clients: reduced barriers to entry and stronger therapy relationships. The result for therapists: a prequalified stream of clients, with no time spent on screening or marketing. We also take care of the logistics of payment, scheduling, and practice management, creating a streamlined client experience and reducing therapist time spent on admin work. Finally, we extend the impact of therapy outside of in-person sessions, engaging users to keep therapy top-of-mind and drive better outcomes.
We've started with mental health therapy, and have a hyperlocal Boston-area network of 135 therapists, who are deeply engaged with our service and playing a key role in product development. In the past six months, we've driven them over $500K in new business and proven their willingness to pay for our matchmaking solution.
CB: Who are some of Sophia’s clients? Are there any use cases that stand out to you?
CJ: One of our clients came to us because she just wasn’t feeling a connection to her previous therapist. She had recently ended a three-year, unhealthy relationship and found that it had impacted her relationships with other people who were close to her and her own self-worth. She was looking to understand why she had stayed in the relationship for so long, to learn healthy ways to cope and to find herself and her purpose as she moved on. Below is a quote she shared about her experience with Sophia:
“I have to say I’m so unbelievably impressed by the company you’ve put together. There’s such a need for this service, and what you’ve put together is really incredible. Every step of the process is so beautifully put together, and absolutely seamless. I’m so impressed and so thankful that it exists. I was having an incredibly hard time finding a therapist, and this really gave me hope. Thank you!”
CB: How big is the team? Looking to hire any particular position in the upcoming months?
CJ: We’re a sprightly team of three! Eva is our CEO, I’m our VP of Community, and Bowen Lu is our CTO. We’re looking to hire a front end developer who wants to write beautiful code that supports people’s mental health. We’re also looking for a marketing lead who’s passionate about connecting with people in a time of need. If anyone has a skillset they believe can help, we’d love to hear from them at firstname.lastname@example.org!
CB: You went from being part of the MIT delta v accelerator…to immediately being part of Techstars? How was the team’s experience participating in each program?
CJ: Well, we didn’t quite immediately jump from delta v to Techstars! We were on our own for the Fall of 2017! :)
We definitely feel blessed to get so much support from the Boston startup community. Delta v was fantastic because it was our first time working full-time together, and we were learning a lot about our potential customers and the space in general. Bill Aulet’s Disciplined Entrepreneurship framework provided us a structured way to interview customers, design experiments and analyze the core assumptions of our business model.
By the time we got to Techstars, we were much further along. We also had a real business running, so we had the challenge of re-examining our entire business model with the help of the Techstars network, while also trying to run the business on the side. Another highlight of Techstars was the weekly ‘family dinner.’ Each week, Techstars would bring in founders from incredible companies to talk about their startup journeys. Everyone was very insightful and honest -- no one put on airs and they shared all the low points along with the highlights. These weekly dinners were always so inspiring and helped us gain perspective.
CB: Has your company participated in any trade shows/meetup events in the Boston area? What about events outside of Boston?
CJ: We have been to conferences for the Massachusetts state associations for psychologists, social workers, and mental health counselors, respectively. We also go to monthly brunches put on by a coalition of therapists who specialize in group therapy. If you can’t tell, we really love getting to know the needs of the therapists we partner with.
A big part of our ethos is "community". We host quarterly events for our therapists and send out a newsletter to keep them updated on our progress and connected to each other.
We haven’t been to a ton of events outside of Boston yet. We hope to go to the national Psychotherapy Networker conference next year, and SXSW might be nice, as well.
CB: Is the company bootstrapped or seeking investments?
CJ: We are currently closing a seed funding round. You can see our AngelList profile at https://angel.co/sophia-therapy.
CB I’m always interested in how a startup came up with its name. How did Sophia get its name?
CJ: Sophia is the ancient Greek word for wisdom. While people often start therapy because they are in distress, what you ultimately gain is wisdom -- wisdom about yourself, how you might want to live, what you can and can’t control, how to find meaning from the inevitable suffering in life and how to fully enjoy the positive moments.
CB: Do you think Boston has a chance to become a hub for mental health innovation? How can they accomplish it?
CJ: Definitely. We’re already the hub for healthcare, and mental health is a big component of overall health and is only going to become more prominent.
We need to get really good at listening to the needs of mental health care providers. It’s popular these days to speak openly about mental health, which is awesome! But I find most startup people still don’t find it a very enticing industry to know and understand. It’s enticing to build a chatbot. It’s not yet quite as enticing to build relationships with mental health care providers and really, truly understand their needs.
Images courtesy of Sophia.