Business Models in Mental Health Tech #Vol2

(#1) D2C Markets 📈; 📌 Activity in the MH space; 💡moment; 📚 Curated MH resources

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💥 A D2C Model refers to a business directly bringing its products/services to the public.

I will start with the generic landscape of Healthcare to give you a quick peek into the Digital Health Market. After which we will move to the Mental Health D2C landscape.

🌡 Direct-to-Consumer Model in Healthcare

The healthcare market has a value of trillion-dollars, allowing startups to disrupt the slow-paced, broken, and impartial system. With an ever-evolving landscape and COVID-19 pushing the conformity of telehealth, we’ve entered into a new era of digital health.

The D2C model has more bandwidth to grow as more physicians, consumers and founders take to social media to spread the message of health & wellness. With fluid funding in the form of subscription models on the rise, when we can have Music, Entertainment, and Gym memberships — why can’t we have healthcare at our fingertips with auto-pay?

🌱 Quick-takeaway:

All of the above companies have had a MASSIVE y-o-y growth of over 200% due to the pandemic. Linking - if you’re curious about learning their profit margins.

🧠 D2C model in Mental Health

An average mind today consumes over 34GB of data per day. With about 3B people expected on social media, consumption is a given. The D2C scaling makes use of this content curation to reach the struggling minds.

The following are the different verticals that were mapped by Stephen Hays, a recovering addict now turned VC who spent over a year talking to several founders and mapped this space out :

It’s categorized into several different verticals based on the value, business model, and services it provides. I’m going to pick the ones that follow the D2C model from each lateral and provide some basic context on them along with their D2C scaling. Thanks to Gabe Strauss, PM at Limbix who mapped this out in 2019 out here.

I will cover other models in the next volumes.

🧐 Sum Analysis of D2C initiatives 


  • Easy to scale 

  • Iterative feedback loop 

  • De-stigmatize conditions, publicly

  • Flexibility and 24*7 availability 

  • Less profitability, higher investments and valuation 

  • Faster growth 


  • Efficacy and clinical backing get overlooked 

  • Encourage consumers to buy products they don’t need 

  • Privacy and data protection

🧘🏽‍♀️ Meditation & Wellness :

Wellness startups focus on prevention/precautionary strategies to provide care to manage stress/life events & mild mental illnesses. These usually do not fall within the “medical” category, providing leeway to the startup to not be regulated by the FDA.

The ultimate goal of these companies is to get categorized under the insurance provider so users don’t have to pay out of pocket. Some of them nonetheless have established enough credibility within the market which might not need a provider backing. (The rationale [My thought]: If I can pay 5$ to entertain myself, I can definitely pay 5$ to meditate & track my moods)

Like everything in the world today sells on content, these brands are masters at conquering this in the wellness space.

✨ Calm

I was so inspired by the vision of Calm’s co-founder, Michael Acton Smith - to build a Disneyland for Wellness: a luxury meditation retreat of sorts in the following decade or so.

With a valuation of $250M in 2018, it has currently jumped to over $2B. The paid subscriber base has more than doubled since 2019 to ~4M today, with over 40M downloads.

It started out as a D2C brand targetting a stressed-out population (that has tripled over the years), by providing mindfulness lessons using meditation, with a very “calming” UI. Sleep stories are their most popular asset with over 70% of the American population struggling to sleep.

Today they’ve partnered with Kaiser Permanente (free for members) to move into the health provider market and have a new B2B employer segment.

✨ Headspace

Andy Puddicombe’s voice is something you cannot miss, it’s what makes Headspace run. A practiced Buddhist monk for over 8 years, Andy came back into the twisted world to spread the message of mindfulness, things he picked up from masters who taught him philosophies of the Eastern world.

Starting with in-person events to spread the joy of meditation in the UK, the duo founders moved the content into an app by recording Andy’s voice into several lessons. With over 62M downloads today, a Netflix documentary and with over 4M paid subscribers.

They’re targeting an FDA approval to get onboard with insurance and already have a ton of B2B workshops.

🤖 AI Chatbots:

With neural models taking over different industry segments it was time something was created to help you ease the struggles in the mind. These can be used by those who have mild anxiety, depression symptoms & mainly those who want to take the route of self-help. Using the D2C model so far, these apps are trying to get their hands onto early beta consumers to shape their neural models.

Ethical challenges with trusting the bot : Trusting the machine learning model, selling of data to third parties and transparency


A self-care bot helping you cope, by using evidence-based stories with a lot of clinical backing. Alison Darcy, the founder and psychologist behind this start-up has a vision of using tech to help you cope in your darkest 2 AM moments. Her vulnerability (attended a HackMentalHealth event) of combining academic research with real industry experience was what made me believe in her vision.

Currently available on the AppStore for free, this team hopes to be a part of the digital therapeutic system as well.


Similar to Woebot, this is an upcoming AI chatbot focused on therapy, emotions, and the provision of everyday check-ins.


This started as an inspiring-text-message system that gained immediate traction among millennials. They now have a self-help app to guide you into a safe space filled with meditation prompts and self-reflection using journaling.

The founders are two women of color who scaled this startup and had no formal business training, which to me is extremely motivating.

🦾 Digital Teletherapy:

COVID has bolstered tele-everything and it just helped the following apps to scale even further. Consumers have painfully experienced the lack of supply for in-network therapists, long waitlists, extended hold-ups, or even out of pocket insurance which has prompted the following startup to succeed. (Will cover this in depth in them future)


This is the largest platform for teletherapy with a network of over 5000 licensed therapists delivering to you on a HIPAA compliant app. D2C scaling includes over a million people who have used this via video/text messaging system. You don’t need a referral to begin, but you do need a subscription. Review of the app components described here.

Like other D2C startups, they’re moving into the B2B space as fast as they can.


Similar to the above, a teletherapy platform providing online counseling to consumers.

👥 Peer-to-Peer :

This model, according to me, is the future: the ratio in the supply of therapists is minimal compared to the demand and rise in mental health illnesses among the population. To keep up, we have to delve into the peer-who-has-experienced-an-issue helping another peer-who-is-suffering. Reading and learning from someone else’s experience always takes priority in our 🧠 over licensed personnel giving you opinions.


Peer-based support group for mental illness/substance abuse / stressful life events using web-based profiles. Create a profile, add a tag and join like-minded groups to find a safe space.

A couple founded start-up according to Crunchbase. I wish there were published stories about how they scaled this, I would love to learn and give them due credit.


Over 300K trained listeners and 25M people helped so far with this chat-based community platform. Only needs a sign-up and you’re free to ask for help and find comfort in others. There’s also professional therapy available based on a subscription.

🔆 Ecosystem Activity:

💡 My aha moment of the week:

I think the above would be an accurate visual of me - daydreaming with some noodles and having dreamy, bulb-y moments through the day. I had one such moment while listening to Atomic Habits: ❗️70% of our Brain Neurons are wired up to ONLY WANT THINGS, and only <30% is set to feel things❗️
Do you blame yourself for not being able to focus at the moment while meditating?? Do you dream of something but feel nothing when you get it?
That’s the art of life, we gotta focus on the now to then visualize the future [The Secret coming to my aid].

💠 Resources:

Solome Tibebu’s RETHINK Behavioral Newsletter


Ness Labs Community and Anne-Laure Le Cunff’s newsletter/articles