Cash does not always flow freely and easily. I blew through cash after selling my first company and went back to the corporate world to make ends meet and fix my credit. Ultimately you want to have salaries and a marketing budget in the bank for a year and not take that cost on yourself. Luckily I set this company up to grow as needed and sell shares, eventually hoping we’ll go public. We’re at a point where we’ve proven we can do it and now for us to really grow we can capitalize more so we don’t have to back off the gas.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewingArt Cooksey.
Arthur Cooksey serves as the Chairman and CEO of Let’s Talk Interactive, Inc. (LTI), leading the corporate strategy and development to drive the adoption of LTI’s suite of products and services. He founded the technology platform in 2001 as a way to provide consumers with access to qualified and licensed behavioral health professionals, which he later evolved to customized services and telehealth technology that LTI is known for today.
The platform is having a major impact in the Florida Panhandle region. Championed by Florida’s First Lady Casey DeSantis and her Hope for Healing Initiative, the program placed telehealth kiosks from Let’s Talk Interactive in 63 public schools throughout the region. As a result, more than 100,000 students have access to mental health support.
In addition to collaborating with schools, Arthur continues to lead the growth of LTI into correctional institution programs, working alongside sheriff teams in Franklin County, FL to reduce recidivism through behavioral health support for inmates. He also emphasizes telehealth innovation among political leaders by attending judiciary hearings and White House event including the Summit on Transforming Mental Health Treatment to Combat Homelessness, Violence, and Substance Abuse.
Prior to Let’s Talk Interactive, Arthur held corporate and strategic roles for more than a decade, including leading corporate development with Bank of America Merchant Services. He was selected as a member of Bank of America’s Market President team where he reviewed social, economic and education issues, and sat on a political action committee that supported nonprofits throughout the Charlotte region.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I originally came from a telecommunications background early on in my career where I had exposure to high-speed internet while most people were still using dial-up. I built a platform that was essentially a decade and a half ahead of its time that was a way for people to safely communicate and provide quality mental health and healthcare services over a secure connection.
I then left the full-time career in telecommunications, while still developing my own technology platform and started a career with Bank of America in a corporate role as an Executive and continued to develop my skills as a business leader.
In 2017 I pivoted back to the company I was building — Let’s Talk Interactive, and officially joined LTI in 2019 as a full-time employee. I’m proud that over the last 20 years with the help of our team LTI has evolved into something people know about trust, and use on a daily basis.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Up until the last few years, we had stood ourselves up as experts in telehealth. We were gaining traction in the market and had strong customers but we were relying on some partnerships that were beginning to come apart due to the sheer demand for telehealth. This forced us to develop our own internal products and solutions to service our current and new customers — essentially evolving and innovating out of necessity.
The last year has also been interesting and challenging between balancing development, sales growth, and capitalization while building out a strong brand and infrastructure in order to continue to grow into the government and other sectors.
Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
We are building out new ways for the provider to engage with the patient, such as the ability to utilize peripherals like pulse ox, EKG and telestroke. We are also developing solutions that enable home health care and Emergency Medical Services to prepare and have access to multiple choices for providing post-disaster care.
Furthermore, we’re developing rugged “telekit” backpacks that allow providers and emergency response teams to offer dozens of necessary services all from a small bag. This enables them to provide care from anywhere, especially in the heart of disaster zones.
How do you think this might change the world?
These telehealth innovations bring access to care to people who need it. For example, mental healthcare has been in crisis in this country for decades, in part due to a major shortage of providers. Through these technology solutions, we can provide the ability to maximize the efficiency for the provider and still provide quality care — allowing more people to have access and not be limited by their geographic boundaries.
Another example is post-surgical care. Some people drive hours to meet with a doctor post-surgery for an appointment that lasts a matter of minutes. For those who are limited to quality care due to geography or the ability to physically get to the hospital, telehealth is a great option that provides a whole different level of service and care for patients. They can go to their local hospital who can access the post-surgery doctors via telehealth to get diagnostics and expert care just a few minutes from the patient’s home.
Telehealth solutions also enable healthcare systems with rural facilities to remotely monitor patients — leveraging physicians and specialists from a variety of locations. This is a value-add for these rural healthcare systems.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Ten to 15 years ago when I was developing this technology the infrastructure to support telehealth did not exist. There was also no industry buy-in that telehealth was a responsible way to provide healthcare services.
Even up to just over a year ago, pre-COVID, we had to create white papers explaining why telehealth wasn’t snake oil. We used to talk about telehealth with potential customers and providers and they would think about it as a good idea but no clue how to implement or support it.
Flash forward to today and you have hospital systems embracing it, insurance systems reimbursing for it, and people using it while working from home and even education systems leveraging it. We went from a world of “we don’t get it” to using it from our cell phones on a daily basis.
I see the next generation of technology and connection similar to what Elon Musk is doing with Starlink producing high-speed data provided across continents. This will enable populations like the Native American tribes in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico and other rural areas in the world to have access to high-speed internet. It will transform their world, giving them access to quality healthcare via telehealth. Education will be transformed, as children will be able to access online learning and even attend college remotely. No longer will we be limited based on geography. This opens a whole new way to learn and stay healthy and communicate.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
The tipping point that led me to develop this technology in the first place happened while I was working in telecommunications more than two decades ago. At the time, I was running high-speed internet and learning about secure frequencies before most people knew what it was and I saw it as a communications platform first and foremost.
Around this time my mother created a national organization for child sexual abuse and I learned about the need for mental health services, seeing a huge gap for mental health providers in telehealth services. Coming from a world where high-speed internet allowed for this, I didn’t understand why this gap existed. I was lucky to be introduced toDoctor Gary Waltz with the University of North Carolina Greensboro who was also the past president of the American Counseling Association and Dr. John Bloom who was part of the American Counseling Association. They wrote a book called Cyber Counseling and Cyberlearning and knew that the internet could have an impact on mental health. With my background in telecommunications, they felt that I would be someone who could bring it to life and as a massive opportunity to impact the market.
Fast forward a few years and in 2003 I got a patent out for med carts, which is essentially the ability to tie-in medical services and hardware into a secure platform — secure being the big piece. Secure communication was much needed in healthcare to keep information and the patient safe.
As I began a full-time career with Bank of America, I kept my telehealth company, (named Let’s Talk Counseling at the time), running on the side. In 2016 someone reached out to me from a hedgefund asking to buy the company which alerted me that there was interest in the market. I had dinner with a close family friend, Candice DeLong, who is now on our Board, and she thought this technology was so needed, especially as phones were really starting to evolve into smartphones. I decided to double down on Let’s Talk.
I hired a president of the company soon after, left my job with Bank of America and worked on shoestring budgets as we pivoted and continued to develop our own software platforms. Today, we’re providing more than 2.2 million dollars minutes of telehealth services on our network and we were recognized by Zoom with their trailblazer award last year for our innovation in telehealth. We won a global award out of necessity and survival.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
First, we need a larger infrastructure. Everyone needs access to 3G or better internet connection.
Second, we need to create an ecosystem. We’re creating a product that’s easy to use and that has all of the HIPAA security pieces. For telehealth to continue to take off and be successful, everyone using it must keep secure sessions, keep patient health information secure, and invest in training for the provider so they know how to use the software in a professional and positive way.
And lastly, implementation, which is happening already. Providers know how to use telehealth and many are engaged in the right kind of services. However, every state has its own regulations — some states have more than others.
A great example of this coming together is the state of Florida. They are developing the ecosystem — offering telehealth solutions for mental health, healthcare, child welfare, foster care, EMS services, schools and more. They are going to be on one platform, everyone will be trained on it so providers can easily join and patients can easily access it.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies
We went from developing white papers that talked about what telehealth is, to now partnering with state governments, like Florida, to develop their telehealth ecosystem. We’re investing in public relations to tell these stories of impact and innovation, winning awards, blogging and social media and more.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to say I am grateful for the entire team at LTI. We would not be where we are without each and everyone one of them.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We’re enabling organizations like Soldier On to provide mental health support for Veterans, which was much-needed during the pandemic when face-to-face access to providers was limited.
We are also supporting children and families in the Florida Panhandle with mental health services through their schools as they work to overcome the devastation to the region brought on by Hurricane Michael.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- That everyone in the world did not have access to high-speed internet. I wish I knew that early on and just how long it would be until they would have access.
- Cash does not always flow freely and easily. I blew through cash after selling my first company and went back to the corporate world to make ends meet and fix my credit. Ultimately you want to have salaries and a marketing budget in the bank for a year and not take that cost on yourself. Luckily I set this company up to grow as needed and sell shares, eventually hoping we’ll go public. We’re at a point where we’ve proven we can do it and now for us to really grow we can capitalize more so we don’t have to back off the gas.
- Be mindful of who you share your ideas and thoughts with. We ran into challenges in the beginning with other governments snagging ideas from us. Our first med cart version was even knocked off overseas.
- You have to surround yourself with people who are better than you are. They will bring valuable expertise and experiences to the table.
- Check your ego at the door and be nice.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Healthcare is a human right and a responsibility to all of us. Some are blessed more than others, some have better access due to geography or economics.
In a world of tech, there’s no reason a village in the middle of Africa or a tribe in New Mexico doesn’t have access to quality healthcare. This is a passion — doing good for the human race. And by doing it well, there’s an amazing opportunity to be successful at the same time in this sector.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Failure to plan is planning to fail.
Sit down and think through what you want to do and how you want to do it. There’s flexibility for pivots and strategy updates as market conditions change. But failing to sit down and generate a plan to go forward is pretty much an indicator for failure.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
The timing for the telehealth industry couldn’t be better. LTI’s background and list of successes, and proof of concept is best in class
Our corporate structure and opportunity for growth are abnormally good. And our leadership is responsive and well experienced to accomplish great growth.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.