Select Page

Oren Frank, CEO and Co-Founder of Talkspace, opens up about founding Talkspace and the state of mental healthcare in the United States.

Oren Frank
CEO & Co-Founder

Oren Frank:

Good morning, everybody. Welcome to my bar mitzvah. I hope everyone brought checks with them because we need all the help. She just committed to five-hundred months of therapy; I don’t know if you noticed.

I want to tell you a story that I think is incredible. It’s bordering on science fiction. Many of you know me personally and therefore, you will find it extremely difficult to believe that over ten years ago Roni actually left me. I don’t hear the response. She did! She just basically said goodbye, which was the point in life when we met … Where is she? Iris. I don’t know if you guys know her as Iris, but Dr. Reitzes who’s also known as Iris to us, was our couples therapist. She’s here today with us, which is kind of a self-contained fixing mechanism that we carry with us ever since. I think the point to be made is that this is where Roni and myself both fell in love with this profession that’s called therapy, or psychotherapy. This is where the seed was sewn where we said, “How come not many more people actually have access and have the privilege, have the value and the help that is generated by a great therapist?”

So that happened. We went to Iris. I was sometimes fun, sometimes less fun as you can imagine. We ended up staying together, having two wonderful daughters, and having an adopted third child called Talkspace. She is here with us today. Roni actually left her previous career. She was a software developer; I’m not sure that all of you know that interesting anecdote. She went to study psychology. I prefer to speak with Iris a little more, in terms of my education in psychology. If you fade out and fade in many years later, this is actually the founding story behind why we started Talkspace four years ago.

The other side of the founding story is the American Dream. This is a couple of words, three words, “The American Dream,” that everyone … We are, as you can probably hear, foreigners, immigrants, and we grew on that term, “The American Dream,” as something that is inspiring, which people look up to. Then you come over here, and you look at a country that … I think Roni, I gave you the numbers … Which is basically for millions of people it’s an American nightmare. It’s a very bad dream that comes true every day on a regular basis, and there’s no help. When we looked and began to understand the size and the breadth of the problem, it was just mind boggling. When you look at some more data, and Roni mentioned some of it … sixty-million Americans with a diagnosable mental health condition every year. The vast majority are not receiving any help at all.

Cost of healthcare in this biggest empire in the human history is two and a half times the average per capita cost of the OECD. It’s the most expensive healthcare system in the known universe, while being the least efficient and also the least effective. I think that life expectancy in the United States, which is a pretty basic measure, is in the fourth tenth of percent at the bottom of the average of the OECD. The system is broken. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t help anyone get out of the American Nightmare and move back into that alleged American Dream.

When we started Talkspace we were made very painfully aware of this situation and therefore, we arrived at two fundamental decisions. One is that we are going to go around the entire healthcare system. The HMOs, the insurance companies, the hospitals; those people, while all of them, or most of them, very well meaning, they have created this problem and they do not have the tools, nor in my opinion the motivation or the incentive, to change it.

We decided to go directly to the consumer, bypass that entire thing … And now I’m going back to the beginning of this discussion, get this amazing group of people called therapists … There are over half a million licensed therapists in the United States, all around the country, and all those systems that created this issue are just standing in the way of connecting that amazing audience with all those people that are in need. That is actually what Talkspace set out to do: cut the middle man. The middle man takes all the money, takes all the care, and they don’t really care. Excuse my Hebrew, if you will.

So that was the one decision that we took, and the other one is we were thinking very hard and long about the modality of delivering therapy. A few years ago I may have been thinking differently, but today I’m pretty sure that therapy equals therapist. The quality, the dedication, the passion, the commitment, the relationship that any therapist create and generate with their patient, with their client, is the only real difference made here in the success of the treatment. The modality? It’s far less important. You all know it because you can talk on the phone, you can Skype, or you can text, or you can … I don’t know if smoke signs are going to work; we haven’t tried that modality yet. It’s going to be very local; I don’t think it’s going to work across state lines. But it is the personality of the therapist, and their ability to generate a relationship.

If you look at the traditional, amazing, beloved modality of face-to-face therapy, which I have done for so many years, I want to make very clear that we love this modality. If it was accessible and affordable for those sixty-million people, or even for half of them, we wouldn’t be needed; we shouldn’t be sitting here today. But the truth is there isn’t. Most people cannot access it, so the second decision beyond going directly to the consumer is find and additional, alternative, new modality that allows therapists to generate this relationship in a much more … “Convenient,” I think is the right word … That people would love and continue to consume.

This is basically our product, Unlimited Messaging Therapy, and this is the stuff that helps us to help ten thousands of people. Please know and remember: Half of the people that are using Talkspace have never been to therapy before, and would have never gone to therapy if Talkspace did not exist. For us, this is the fulfillment of what we are setting out to do. Those are people that had no access to help, and now they do. Case closed.

Now why are we actually here today? Why are we doing a conference that’s called “The Future of Therapy?” I think three reasons, very, very roughly. First one is around therapy. We need to come out and push this wonderful profession and get people to understand the value of psychotherapy, the power of it. It’s 2016, guys, and I still get some people: “I’m just fresh out of funding a roadshow,” and … I want to hear some sympathy, some empathy, guys. At 2016 I still met a lot of investors that actually doubt that this is a profession, and that it is helpful. I know it’s weird. There are probably just a couple of thousand of researches that prove the opposite, but it still shows you the power of the stigma, and the stigma as it is reflected in the resistance expressed by: “Oh, therapy is nothing. It’s not going to work.” They don’t really know. They don’t really care. They’re being threatened by the notion of mental healthcare. That’s the real story, in my opinion, behind it.

So we are here to say: Yeah. Therapy is amazing. Therapists are amazing because therapy is therapist, as I mentioned before. We want to make sure that people understand that, and this is a method or a way for us to fight stigma and remove it.

The second one is I think we need help. I think Roni and I, and the amazing team that is working with us and built an amazing platform and company, we need all the help we can get from other companies, from other participants in the ecosystem that is trying to change the healthcare industry and system in the United States; and by change I’m actually meaning making it halfway decent, and edible. We’re not going to be able to do this all by ourselves so we invite many people from other companies that are here today, from the entire system that surrounds this, to come and help us and join forces.

This is not a competitive discussion. There are sixty-million people that need help every year. There’s room for everyone. Anyone, guys; anyone that wants to join in and start this tradition that we started today, which is called “The Future of Therapy,” which is an open and transparent discussion about “How do we make better, quicker?” The real common aim, or target, or goal of all of us is that alleged and beautiful human condition that we want to help with, and we want to help the helpers. So I really hope to see all of you, and maybe a few hundred more people next year in the second year of “The Future of Therapy.” The plan is to stand right here in this place and tell you about the progress that we did in the year of 2016. Hopefully, you guys will be a huge part of this progress.

Thank you very much. Enjoy the day.