Mental health, and how it is getting addressed, has been one of the major leitmotifs of the past year of pandemic living. COVID-19 not only has led to a lot of people getting ill or worse; it has increased isolation, economic uncertainty and led to a lot of other kinds of disappointments, and that all has had a knock-on effect on our collective and individual state of mind.
Today a startup called Headway, which has been working on building a better way for people to attend to themselves — by way of a three-sided marketplace of sorts, by helping a person to find and afford a therapist via a free-to-use portal, by making it possible for those therapists to accept a wider range of insurance plans and by helping those insurance plans facilitate more therapy appointments for their patient networks — is announcing a major round of funding on the heels of strong growth.
The startup has raised $70 million, money that it will be using to continue expanding its platform with more partnerships, more hiring for its team (it wants to have 300 people this year) and opening in new regions, aiming to be nationwide this year in the U.S. This round, a Series B, has a number of big names attached to it: It is being led by Andreessen Horowitz, with Thrive, GV and Accel also participating. (The latter three are repeat investors: Thrive and GV led its Series A, while Accel led its seed.) This Series B is coming in at a $750 million valuation.
The rapid pace of funding, the backers and that valuation all underscore the timeliness of the concept, and also the traction that Headway is getting for its approach.
When we last covered Headway — it raised $26 million just last November, six months ago — it said it had registered some 1,800 therapists on its platform in the New York metro area, where it is based. Now that number is up to more than 3,000 with its network now covering not just NYC, but also New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Michigan, Virginia, Washington, Illinois and Colorado. It has more than 2,000 patients joining the platform each month and has so far helped facilitate 300,000 appointments, with a current average of 30,000 appointments each month. Revenues have in the last year, meanwhile, grown nine-fold.
The approach that Headway is taking — creating not just a vertical search portal for therapists, but building a back-end system to help those therapists grow their business by making it easier for them to accept insurance coverage — comes directly out of the experiences faced by one of the startup’s co-founders.
Andrew Adams, the CEO of Headway, told me last year he came up with the idea after he moved to New York from California several years ago to take a job. In seeking a therapist, he found most unwilling to accept his insurance plan as payment, making getting therapy unaffordable.
This is a very typical problem, he said. Some 70% of therapists do not accept insurance today because it’s too complicated for them to integrate, since about 85% of all therapists happen to be solo practitioners. So something that should be accessible to everyone becomes something typically only used by those who can afford it, or have entered into social care programs that might provide it. But that leaves a massive gap in the middle.
“This is the defining problem in the space,” he said at the time. “Health insurance is built around a medical world dominated by billers and admins, but therapists are small practitioners and don’t have the bandwidth to handle that, so they don’t. So we thought if we could make it easier for them to, they would, and they have.”
And indeed, if you are needing to see a therapist, the very last thing you need or want to be doing is spending your time trying to work out the economics of doing so: You need to be focused on finding someone you feel you can talk to; someone who can help you.
The problem is a huge one. In the U.S. alone it’s estimated that there are some 82 million people who have treatable health conditions. Headway was founded on the premise that most of them currently do not seek that treatment because of cost or accessibility.
A lot of therapy has traditionally been about seeing people in person — and arguably the fact that we’ve had so much reduced contact with people has contributed to mental health issues this past year — but in the event, Headway has definitely adapted to the current climate.
The company says that some 89% of its appointments at the moment are being carried out remotely. This is down from 97% at the peak of the pandemic in the U.S., and has been slowly starting to taper off, the company said. Some of the increased volume, meanwhile, is a direct result of therapists working remotely — they can fit more people in to a daily schedule as a result.
In terms of insurers, the company currently works with Aetna, Cigna, United Healthcare, Oscar and Oxford and says the list will be growing. One interesting detail is that Headway has not only built out a bigger funnel for these insurers in terms of the practitioners they work with and individuals who can subsequently use insurance to pay for therapy, but conversely has served to be a conduit for those insurance groups in bringing more patients through to those therapists, who are now a part of their networks, by way of Headway’s platform.
Headway says that using its system can help a patient get an appointment within five days, versus the the 30-day average you typically face when using an insurance directory.
It’s the kind of scale and “software eating the world” efficiency that has attracted Andreessen Horowitz to backing companies before, with the added detail of this being particularly relevant to the time we are living in.
“By getting the mental health provider community on the same page with insurance companies for the first time, Headway unlocks affordable mental healthcare for millions of Americans,” said Scott Kupor, managing partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “We’re incredibly excited to work alongside the Headway team.” Kupor is also joining Headway’s board with this round.
Cherry Miao, a former partner at Accel and Headway’s lead seed investor, is also joining as head of Finance & Data.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the world’s most influential startups, and know that being part of Headway’s meaningful mission, robust business model, and incredibly talented team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “I’m thrilled to be helping rebuild America’s mental healthcare system for access and affordability.”