Peter Shalek wanted to be a therapist. “I read Freud and Jung at age 16. I’m interested in why people do the things we do.” As a college freshman Peter began a laundry service and enjoyed building a business. which led him, after completing a math degree at Columbia, to business school. But his interest in what makes us tick persisted. “I shadowed emergency docs at Stanford to see what business opportunities existed. There were so many patients with mental health issues.”
The result of Peter’s twin passions is Joyable, online Cognitive Behavior Therapy. While the average cost of a single visit for traditional therapy is $162, Joyable provides CBT software plus a personal coach for $99 a month. “The software handles the therapy. Our coaches’ goal is to get clients motivated. The coach gives feedback and is proactive if the client’s not following through.”
Joyable recently moved to start-up chic offices in the South of Market district. The company has grown from a staff of five in May, to thirty the day Peter and I met. Five more employees were starting the next week. Staff growth centers on new coaches, to maintain an consistent client to coach ratio as subscriptions rise. “We have unlocked a lot of demand, though we can’t get below $99 a month and offer personal coaching.”
Just as Amazon began its online retail empire selling books and CD’s that people didn’t feel the need to see and touch before buying, Joyable is strategic in the therapy it offers. Its first therapeutic product addresses anxiety. “Social anxiety is well suited to online interaction; these folks don’t want to meet others in person.”
Peter interviewed clinicians and patients to develop a series of computer-based activities that clients use in a self-help way to become more comfortable with social interaction. “CBT is about putting yourself in a difficult situation, learning that failure is rare, but that if you fail, you can rebound. For people with mild anxiety, an activity might be to invite someone for coffee. For those with serious anxiety, going to the grocery store might create a success.”
Joyable accepted their first clients in March of 2015. They have a core therapy program in place and a clinical consulting group that guides its evolution. At present, no insurers provide reimbursement for services, nor has Joyable determined what therapies to offer next, though Peter sees opportunity in treating depression and PTSD.
At the party celebrating the company’s first year in business, 30-year-old Peter realized joyfully, “I never impacted so many people in one year.” Like all San Francisco start-ups, growth is embedded in the Joyable business model, and as Joyable grows, Peter will impact more lives. “We want everyone to lead a better life through better mental health.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I’ll speak to mental health, since that’s where I spend my time. Ten years from today, we will think of mental health at a social level, the same as physical health. Thirty years ago people did not talk about physical health. Now we share about cancer and talk about weight loss. We will get to the same place with mental health and evaluation of feelings.
“Joyable is part of that evolution. We start by normalizing a mental health experience, then we help people act on it.”