Real raises $10M from Lightspeed, Megan Rapinoe and others to rethink therapy


Ariela Safira
Image Credits: Real

The last year has put a spotlight on mental health, and startup Real is looking to shake up the space with a product that makes group therapy available on-demand.

Founded by CEO Ariela Safira, Real is inspired by a longstanding methodology in the world of mental health: Group therapy. AA, for instance, has been around for decades and proven to be incredibly effective for some. But that format isn’t as readily available across a variety of issues beyond the disease of addiction.

To deploy this service, Real has raised $10 million in Series A financing, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners with participation from existing and new investors, including Megan Rapinoe and Minnesota Vikings Linebacker Eric Kendricks.

Real employs full-time therapists to lead group therapy across a variety of issues, including exploration of sexuality, anxiety, managing anger with family members and other real-world issues. With Real, users pay $28/month to have access to these pathways (as Real calls them), letting users watch these group therapy sessions on-demand and get journal prompts and other resources.

One of the benefits of this platform is that users can get more tactical advice on these things, rather than trying to explore the problems. They also feel less alone, as they see others are struggling with the same things.

Perhaps most importantly, Real allows users to tap into the conversations and therapy they need at the time they want it.

Mental health startups are raising spirits and venture capital

Safira explained that she might be deep in her thoughts and feelings on Wednesday at 11pm, but can’t get a one-on-one therapy session until 2pm on Monday. Her state may have changed. With Real, she can get online and access the right pathway in the moment.

Interestingly, Real’s research shows that most people doing one-on-one therapy said they went for general anxiety, relationship problems and career advice. However, on Real, the top pathways are sexuality, motherhood and intimacy. The conclusion is that the things people want to work on the most are not always the things they’re most comfortable digging into in a one-on-one setting.

By scaling group therapy sessions to an on-demand audience, Real has been able to bring the cost of this type of service way down, especially when compared to one-on-one therapy.

Real is the product of many years of work in the mental health space. While she was studying for her undergrad degree at Stanford, Safira’s friend attempted suicide. It was her first time confronting the mental health system and it made her wonder why the system was designed the way it was. She threw herself in.

“I spent two to three years working on how to redesign the mental health care system,” she said. “That entails visiting and flying to rehab centers, therapy offices, architecture firms that have built those spaces to learn why we make the decisions in mental health care that we make. Things like is there research behind the bright white walls in inpatient mental health facilities, and if not, is that based on legal hurdles or financial hurdles? I really wanted to get into the foundation of how to build a system.”

Image Credits: Real

She dropped out of Stanford, then returned to Stanford, then went to Columbia for her masters, and then dropped out of Columbia to start Real. And the time seems to finally be right. Real has attracted investment from big names in institutional VC and big names in general.

“[Ariela] looked at something that has been around for so long, therapies in the traditional sense, and flipped it on its head to break up the status quo, and I thought that was really interesting and innovative,” said Megan Rapinoe in an interview with TechCrunch. “There are obviously a lot of barriers to access mental health services, for a lot of different reasons. Hopefully, this platform can make it easier for people to get the help that they need.”

Rapinoe is but one of the big names invested in Real. She is joined by Gwyneth Paltrow and Eric Kendricks.

Kendricks explained that he had never been averse to therapy but that he learned a lot after meeting his now-fiancé and hearing about her struggles and the struggles of her family, which has dealt with a variety of mental health issues.

“Everything was going well for me,” he said. “I was always playing well in the field, and financially, I’m making more money than when I was a kid. But I did have moments where I was questioning myself and in my head a lot and it’s kind of a weird feeling. I had to take a step back and I realized that I was going through a little bit of something. But based on the conversations I had with my fiancé, I used my resources to find the help that I needed and it was amazing.”

He explained that the shift in society’s mentality around mental health has paved the way for a product like Real, which is a more proactive and preventative approach to mental wellness.

But Real has also been able to react quickly to big events in our world. The company has launched a product called Real to the People, which offers free access to the platform during moments of crisis, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and, most recently, the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes.

Nicole Quinn, partner at Lightspeed, explained that the firm has had an interest in the mental health space for a long time. In fact, LSVP is an investor in Calm.

Calm co-CEO Michael Acton Smith explains strategy behind ‘mental fitness’ app

“The ‘aha’ moment for me was when I looked at the disease of alcoholism,” said Quinn, who led the round in Calm. “You get to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, and you really benefit through having groups. Can we apply that same group method by scaling to other areas. We have a fundamental belief that yes, you can.”

Real has raised a total of $16 million since launch.

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

21 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

23 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android