Bea Arthur’s Mental Health Care Tech Solution Means Everybody Can Have Somebody To Talk To On A Bad Day, On Mogul Watch

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Bea Arthur
Bea Arthur, licensed therapist and founder of The Difference, a tool that allows you to connect with a therapist via phone, app or Alexa.

There’s a growing intersectionality between mental health services and software to deploy those services, but small mental health practices have limited budgets to invest in tech solutions.

The behavioral mental health care software and services market is expected to reach $4.31 billion by 2025, according to the Grand View Research report. Mental health professionals need a tech solution for connecting to new and existing patients to survive in the growing market.

A licensed therapist and serial entrepreneur, Bea Arthur saw a business opportunity and founded The Difference, a tool that allows you to connect with a licensed human therapist via phone, app or with Amazon’s Alexa.

“I think that if therapy was more accessible and affordable, then the world would be a happier, healthier place,” Arthur told Moguldom.

Therapy needs an overhaul, Arthur said.

“Unfortunately, the way it’s delivered right now with the clunky insurance models, the best-case scenario, you could cold call every therapist your insurance company covers and see if they’re taking new clients,” she said. “Most of the time they won’t call you back, and even then, it can take two weeks or two months just to get started. I really wanted everybody to have somebody to talk to on a bad day.”

Slow-to-no contact with a licensed mental health therapist is worse in some states than others. States with the lowest workforce have one mental health professional per 1,000 individuals, according to Mental Health America. In 2015, more than half of U.S. counties had no mental health professionals,
the National Institute of Mental Health reported.

Arthur believes her company is the solution.

In this week’s edition of Mogul Monday, Bea Arthur talks about how she’s connecting people to qualified therapists, why every entrepreneur is a little crazy, and the future of her latest company, The Difference.

You kind of have to be crazy and have high risk-tolerance to be an entrepreneur. You have to have a lot of intense energy. Most of the entrepreneurs I know and worked with are very high-performance individuals. I never met one that wasn’t at least ADD, OCD or bipolar.

Bea Arthur, licensed therapist and founder of The Difference, a tool that allows you to connect with a therapist via phone, app or Alexa.Bea ArthurBea Arthur

Moguldom:  Why did you start The Difference?

Bea Arthur: The Difference is my third company. All of my companies have been at the intersection of psychology and technology. I’ve been a licensed medical counselor for the last 10 years. I was one of the first to work therapy online with my last company, Pretty Padded Room. With that company, I became the first African American female founder to go through the Y Combinator. We operated that company for five years in 30 countries, and 42 percent of our users never tried therapy before.

As a first-generation Ghanaian-American immigrant, it was really important to me be able to provide access to counseling services in places where it’s really inaccessible. I live in Manhattan, in Harlem, and in New York, it’s hard to get a good therapist. But Ghana and Dubai, it’s even harder to get one. Psychology isn’t even a thing you can study. I think that if therapy was more accessible and affordable, then the world would be a happier, healthier place. Unfortunately, with the way it’s delivered right now with the clunky insurance models, the best-case scenario, you could cold-call every therapist your insurance company covers and see if they’re taking new clients. Most of the time they won’t call you back, and even then, it can take two weeks or two months just to get started. I really wanted everybody to have somebody to talk to on a bad day.

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With The Difference, we connect a live human therapist within 30 minutes or less by phone or smart speaker. We are a multichannel product. You can access us through our app or through our hotline. We also have a really wonderful partnership with Amazon Alexa. I figured people talk to Alexa. That’s her defining feature — to provide answers quickly, conveniently — and people want the same from therapists. We’ve been working with them since last March. I feel like now is the time where people are ready to start talking about mental health in a mainstream way. It’s an exciting opportunity for me.

In five years I want therapy to be normal. I want this to be part of our everyday lives — anybody anywhere in the world can have a conversation with a professional. I don’t want it to be seen as this luxury thing for housewives and people with a high net worth.

Bea Arthur, licensed therapist and founder of The Difference, a tool that allows you to connect with a therapist via phone, app or Alexa.

Moguldom:  As you said mental health is something that’s being talked about right now. Has been easy to get customers, or do you think it is still a challenge to get people to move past the stigma of mental health?

Bea Arthur: I think the stigma exists, but I think people don’t care anymore. I think people are tired of feeling bad all the time. They’ve done studies where the numbers for anxiety and loneliness have gone up in all age categories. In particular, the fact that worries me the most is, for the first time in the adolescence years category, where normally the number of suicides by race is usually white, Asian, then brown and Black people. But for the first time, Latino and Black Americans are successfully committing suicide under the age of 13 more than their white counterparts. That wasn’t necessarily happening when I was growing up and I’m 35. It’s really important to me that people aren’t so much in their heads and aren’t spending so much time alone. The internet has certainly added to a culture of comparison. And in America, we just don’t know how to talk about our feelings, especially the kids who were raised during the age of social media. People really don’t have social skills. People have connectivity without intimacy. Rather than feeling lonely and turning to the angry, anonymous internet, I wanted to provide a service where they a can turn to a trusted professional in the heat of the moment right when they need it.

Moguldom: What are some lessons you’ve learned since starting your company?

Bea Arthur: I feel like 80 percent of the time you’re up against problems when you’re a startup, but this is my third company so at least this time I don’t get overwhelmed like I expect things to go wrong. When you’re in early stage, you have to be really flexible, lean in and be hands-on. I keep a very lean team so everybody can know what’s going on at each part of the business. I think what I learned and where people start to fail is when they have to start hiring their team. They look at a big company, a billion-dollar one, and try to hire for that. I don’t really like to hire employees until we have bottlenecks and I say, “OK, we can’t do this anymore. We have to look for who has the passion, self-motivation, and skill set to take this on.” It’s really about being very intentional about your different milestones. Your company is going to look very different with five employees, to eight or even 10 employees. You have different problems.

The thing about entrepreneurship is nobody kidnapped me. This is not a job. I don’t have to do this. I am choosing this life. On the subconscious level, it does feed me. I’m organizing my life, my time, my team and the structure of my company in a way that won’t flatten me out.

Bea Arthur, licensed therapist and founder of The Difference, a tool that allows you to connect with a therapist via phone, app or Alexa.

Even though I like to say I am a people person, I don’t like managing people too much because as the CEO, I have to focus on the vision and uncluttering things. You have to be very strategic about building in systems and a team to make things easier. With my last company, I had to learn a lot of things the hard way. When I applied to the Y Combinator I hadn’t even heard of it. There was a lot of things I had to learn on my own, but I definitely don’t try to do everything myself. You have to hire the right team. It’s just really being very intentional and strategic with your role and evaluating your needs at each milestone.

Moguldom:  What have been some notable wins since launching this company?

Bea Arthur: This company is very new. With my last company, what I’m better known for as we did that one for five years, I was on Shark Tank and on NPR. I was the first African-American female founder in Y Combinator. I’ve been in Buzzfeed. Most importantly is the reach we are able to have for new customers. I didn’t have a technical co-founder or any technical experience. We did have product-market fit from day one. That’s what I’m most proud of with our company. We’re kind of taking lessons learned from the last company into this one. It’s still early days. This is the best part when they’re still creating and making plans.

Moguldom:  What is one of the benefits of being a serial entrepreneur and what is one of the challenges?

Bea Arthur: Mindset. I was really, really, miserable the first time. A lot of startup founders struggle with anxiety and depression. You kind of have to be crazy and have a really high risk tolerance to be an entrepreneur. You have to have a lot of intense energy. Most of the entrepreneurs I know, and I’ve worked with, are very high-performance individuals. I never met one that wasn’t at least ADD, OCD or bipolar. Entrepreneurs are really intense people with a lot of extra energy to burn.

It actually ends up being kind of healthy to funnel that extra energy somewhere. However, the thing in your neurotic brain that comes up with these ideas and keeps you up all night that is super creative, and resourceful is also really hard on yourself when things don’t go well.

The internet has added to a culture of comparison (FOMO). In America, we don’t know how to talk about our feelings, especially kids raised in the age of social media. People have connectivity without intimacy. I wanted to provide a service where they a can turn to a trusted professional in the heat of the moment.

Bea Arthur, licensed therapist and founder of The Difference, a tool that allows you to connect with a therapist via phone, app or Alexa.

For me, the best part about starting a company is this age and at this time has really just been learning what to react to. More than money is your time and your energy. You really have to be focused, not on the things around you, but on what your main goal is for your company. Don’t get distracted by the noise. I always say you have to have a very short-term memory and a long-term vision because things go wrong every day. I used to really come undone with the last company with the early days. I lost friends. I missed weddings. I was in such a mood all the time. There was no balance in my life. I literally worked seven days a week 15 hour days for years. It killed me. I was miserable. I ended up getting a regular job. You’re the first to get yelled at and the last paid. That almost killed me. I had to deal with a lot of sexual harassment and a whole bunch of nonsense.

So, with this one, I realized the trauma I had from the last experience. The thing about entrepreneurship is nobody kidnapped me. This is not a job. I don’t have to do this. I am choosing this life. And on the subconscious level, it does feed me. It does satisfy a need. So, this time, I’m organizing my life, my time, my team and the structure of my company in a way that won’t flatten me out.

Moguldom:  Have you received any outside funding and if so, do you mind sharing how much and from which sources?

Bea Arthur: I don’t say those numbers publicly, but we did raise an angel round. We are going to be opening our seed round this summer. Normally people say, “Don’t open your round in the summer,” but I just really want to make sure we have the right investors. A lot of my investors from last time came in which was a really nice lesson. When you fail you think, “Oh my God! They’re probably going to think I’m a loser. I’ll never win.”

You really can’t over-communicate with your investors. A lot of times they want you to win, too. A lot of times, people go in head down and ignore their investors. But they want you to win because they don’t want to lose their money. So, this time, whenever I have an issue, I’m very open with them and transparent and they usually have a solution. Just don’t try to do too many things by yourself. We’re primarily still funding everything on our enterprise contracts with companies using our services as a part of their wellness initiatives for their employees. So, we have tons of financial options.

Moguldom:  Where do you see the company in five years?

Bea Arthur: In five years I want therapy to be normal. I want this to be part of our everyday lives. That anybody anywhere in the world can have a conversation with a professional. I don’t want it to be seen as this luxury thing for housewives and people with a high net worth. I’m really excited about seeing what the world looks like when we don’t avoid or numb our feelings. I signed with a book agent last year, so I’m working on a book about the cost of avoiding our feelings and how it shows up and how we engage and perform. I’d love The Difference to be a household name. I want to see that anyone, anywhere in the world, can have their own personal hype man.

I don’t like to hire employees until we have bottlenecks and I say, “OK, we can’t do this anymore. We have to look for who has the passion, self-motivation, and skill set to take this on.” It’s about being very intentional. Your company is going to look different with five employees, to eight or even 10. You have different problems.

Bea Arthur, licensed therapist and founder of The Difference, a tool that allows you to connect with a therapist via phone, app or Alexa.