Pace launches out of private beta with a plan to scale virtual group therapy – ProWellTech
One in five people have mental illness. Pace, a new startup founded by executives at Pinterest and Affirm, wants to pay attention to the other four in that stat.
“No one is always perfectly sane,” said Jack Chou, co-founder of Pace. “It’s a non-existent idea, everyone is swimming between being clinically mentally unhealthy and perfectly mentally happy.”
While diagnosable mental health conditions might get medication or individual therapy, those living in a gray space may still need resources to stay afloat. After Chou experienced the damaging effects of burnout while working for Pinterest and Affirm, and co-founder Cat Lee, formerly of Pinterest and Maveron, experienced a personal farce, former colleagues realized there had to be a way to help them. people who didn’t fit it exactly in a bucket.
So Pace, who launched the private beta today, wants to address this mistake by creating small-group training courses for people interested in taking care of their emotional and mental health. It launches with $ 1.9 million in initial funding. Investors include Nellie and Max Levchin, Jeff Weiner, Emilie Choi, Ben Silbermann, Box Group and SV Angel.
The centerpiece of the product is a 90-minute live video group session once a week, delivered via the Pace platform. The video component integrates with Twilio and Agora (and, interestingly, not Zoom, because its SDK lacks customization options). Users can join sessions on the web, iOS or Android.
Pace forms cohorts of eight to 10 people around shared interests or identities, such as a founding group or parent group. Then, Pace interviews a new user for 15-30 minutes to find out what they hope to get from the experience.
Once a group is formed, they meet weekly with a facilitator at the helm. While it’s not looking to replace therapy, the startup is looking for facilitators who are enabled to practice mental health. To help them do this, Pace has secured two founding members who are psychologists: Dr. Kerry Makin-Byrd and Dr. Vivian Oberling.
When users log in, they are asked to choose three words that describe themselves from dozens of options. These words appear below their video as they talk and help skip some small talk at the start of the sessions.
The group talks about a variety of topics, from how to manage stress to how to adapt to a remote world. There is no formal curriculum, but each class has a takeaway that participants can get started with.
Pace does not follow any specific schedule during meetings, but instead uses time for people to talk through their feelings. Facilitators are licensed mental health doctors, with most leaders being part-time or self-employed. He plans to introduce asynchronous ways for group members to chat and stay connected beyond the weekly class, as well as spend time creating a product that feels beyond a Zoom call.
Mental health software startups are in tears right now. Last month, Lyra Health raised $ 175 million at a $ 2.25 billion valuation to connect employees to therapists and mental health services. Another telemedicine service provider, Talkspace, announced today that it would be made public via an SPAC. There is also Calm, the latest $ 2 billion worth, and Headspace, its biggest competitor in the awareness app space.
Pace’s focus is more like the latter than the former: avoiding the telemedicine label and positioning itself more as a supplement to formal health services.
“Our hope is that like [therapists] having individual patients who would like to incorporate a group work or who need something later, so we’re here for that too, “says Chou.
One of Pace’s closest competitors is Coa, which launched with $ 3 million in initial funding in October 2020. Likewise, the startup uses small-group fitness culture and applies it to mental health. Mix lesson-style teaching with interactive sessions to fuel conversation.
Pace would not explain how it differs from Coa beyond allusion to upcoming product features and community investment. Coa charges $ 25 for drop-in classes (sticking to that fitness class theme) while Pace charges $ 45 a week for the same group to meet for months at a time. While Coa has licensed therapists, Pace has licensed mental health doctors.
Coa co-founders Alexa Meyer and Dr. Emily Anhalt say their service is unique to Pace from a curriculum perspective.
“Although all Coa courses are facilitated by licensed therapists, Coa courses are different from group therapy,” Meyer said. Coa uses Anhalt’s research on mental happiness to create programming. Both companies are still pre-launch, but Coa says it has 6,000 people on its waiting list.
For both startups, the obstacles they face are common to any startup: customer acquisition, effectiveness in tracking results, and scaling of an innately emotional and personalized experience. Like Homebrew’s Hunter Walk stressed in a recent blog post, vulnerable populations exposed to enterprise-wide risk is a difficult phenomenon. Startups fail often and, in this case, that could mean leaving people who depend on group therapy without critical support.
Moving forward, the real winner in the mental health fitness space will come to a thoughtful resume and user experience that brings out vulnerability in people even in a virtual environment. Regardless, the innovation pouring into the industry couldn’t come at a better time.