Faced with a personal crisis of his own, Nathaniel Smithies considered therapy, but hit a wall when it came to the who, when, and where of booking an actual appointment.
He set up PlusGuidance, an online therapy and counselling platform, to break down the barriers that stop people getting the counselling help they need.
The site gives users immediate access to a global pool of counsellors and therapists, and once the user has selected the therapist that matches their needs, PlusGuidance sessions are scheduled to take place via instant messaging, secure video chat or by arranging to meet in person.
Considering the sensitivities involved, the platform is completely secure, and unlike sessions over most VoIP platforms including Skype, PlusGuidance users own their own data.
Smithies shares his growth journey in taking PlusGuidance to market, and what lies next for his business.
Name of entrepreneur(s): Nathaniel Smithies
Location: London, UK
Date launched: 2015 (public launch)
Number of employees: 5
What does your business do?
PlusGuidance is an online therapy platform that connects clients with their choice of online therapist. You can have secure video, voice and messaging sessions online.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
A few years ago, I suffered from panic attacks, leading me to consider therapy. It was daunting as a young guy to think about opening up my can of worms to a complete stranger. Add to that the waiting lists, having to book appointments in the middle of a working day and being afraid to be ‘found out’. If it was much easier and instant to get therapy, I would have gone for it much earlier.
Once I started, it was a huge relief, and I started actively promoting it to friends and family. That was when I got the idea of a creating a website where you can get therapy immediately without jumping through all the hoops I and others have experienced.
How did you know there was a market for it?
The therapy industry is multi-billion dollar industry, and we know there’s huge demand for therapy pretty much everywhere in the world. One of the main problems is that many aren’t able to access it or even afraid to take the first step of getting help.
How did you raise funding, and why?
I’ve previously raised funding through angel investment platforms. We’re now at the point where we need a new boost to make an app for PlusGuidance, and to amplify our marketing reach based on what we’ve learned in the past year by testing, tweaking and analysing different things.
Describe your business model in brief.
We don’t charge therapists anything to sign up with a profile and use our video technology and other tools. If the therapist submits to be in our public directory, we charge them 15 per cent (+ small payment fee) for the sessions they have with clients who’ve found them through our website. We also have organisations and charities using the platform through sub-domains, and they are charged monthly service fees according to their usage needs.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
The first big milestone was probably when we got all the HIPAA-compliance approval in place. That was sometime in 2014 when we were still developing the website. It took us a long time and correspondence with lawyers to go through all the rules we need to adhere to as a secure online therapy provider, so we were very proud to achieve that gold status in the end.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Look after yourself whenever you can. I know more than anything how important it is an entrepreneur to stay productive, focused but above else, don’t overstretch yourself. If you do, your team and services won’t be their best either.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I want to still be running PlusGuidance which by then would have a much wider reach in the world. We’ll be one of the leading online therapy providers and the go-to website for choice and tailored mental health care.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be… A singer-songwriter, I think. Before I set up my first business as a web designer, I was making music. I’d like to think I’d do the same today if I wasn’t busy running my own business.
What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?
As cheesy as it sounds, it’s: Never give up. EVER.