Spill picks up £650K seed round for its message-based workplace therapy app

Spill, the London-based startup that offers a message-based therapy app to help improve workplace well-being, has picked up £650,000 in seed investment. The round is backed by Passion Capital, Seedcamp and a number of angel investors, including Made.com founder Julien Callede and Urban co-founder Jack Tang.

Founded a little over a year ago by Calvin Benton and Gavin Dhesi, Spill aims to reduce the barriers associated with accessing mental health and well-being services, which it says typically leaves people in the U.K. with two choices: facing long wait times via the National Health Service or paying for expensive private therapy sessions. Instead, Spill is designed as a consumer-styled app that provides access to qualified therapists via text messaging, paid for by employers.

“At the moment, if someone is going through a tricky time, the choices for accessing counselling are between either a months-long NHS waiting list to see a counsellor or forking out upwards of £60 a session to see a private psychotherapist,” Spill’s Dhesi tells me. “Both come with the baggage of an inflexible time commitment and the issue of stigma. We want to make another way possible; available whenever you need it, free at the point of use, and approachable rather than intimidating.”

Counsellors on the Spill app are BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) registered “or equivalent” and communicate using anonymous written therapeutic communication. The startup works with employers, workplaces or universities to make its app available to employees, individuals and students for free and as a workplace or student benefit. Customers include Hargreaves Landsown, Rightmove and Monzo Bank.

“Our typical business customers are progressive organisations of all sizes, from small startups with as few as only 10 employees to larger fast-growing companies,” adds Dhesi. “Typical users are those who are dealing with life’s daily problems and who often think that their problems are ‘too small’ to speak to a professional. In fact, 84 percent of existing Spill users have not previously accessed any kind of mental health guidance or counselling before.”

But can text-based therapy really be effective? I suggest to Dhesi that message-based delivery might feel a bit like a poor person’s talking therapy. Naturally, the Spill co-founder pushes back. “If face-to-face counselling could be easily accessed by everyone who needed it, we wouldn’t need to exist,” he says. “By working via text, rather than the traditional method of face to face, we hope that we can reach a lot more people.”

On the Spill app, you start by answering a few questions about who you are. This includes things like “Who are the most important people in your life” and “How important is work to you?” Then, Spill will match you with your own designated Spill therapist. “You’ll be able to message them whenever you want, and they’ll reply with support, guidance and exercises,” explains the Spill co-founder.

Meanwhile, Spill says the app also provides benefits to counsellors and professionals who want to have a greater impact on more individuals. Co-founder Benton’s mother is a counsellor and his father is a clinical psychologist, arguably giving the team first-hand experience of the “supply side” of Spill’s solution.

Adds Dhesi: “For businesses, our main direct competitors are conventional EAPs (Employee Assistance Programmes). These often are phone lines that have very low usage and designed to help those with severe mental health issues. Spill, on the other hand, is a more preventative measure aiming its service towards life’s everyday problems.”