“You can’t please everyone.” No matter how much you try to make everyone happy with your product, you’re not going to. Some people are just never satisfied. If you do the best you can and do things the right way, you’ll be able to sleep at night
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Grammer, LPCC-S.
Matt is a licensed professional counselor and mental health entrepreneur living in Louisville, KY. He is the Founder and CEO of Kentucky Counseling Center, which ranked #92 on the Inc. 5000 list in 2019. Matt discovered his career path and passion for life after finding out that his father was diagnosed with Schizophrenia.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thank you! I appreciate the opportunity. I didn’t realize it until I was 18, but my father suffered from Schizophrenia, which laid the foundation for my childhood. Due to his frequent employment changes, my family moved 7 times between different states and cities until we finally settled in Kentucky, when I was in 4th grade.
Up to that point, I was in a new school every year, and switched schools multiple times within some years. I learned pretty quickly that if I was going to make it in this world, I’d have to be flexible and strong at adapting to new situations, and be able to make friends easily. Always being the new kid can be traumatizing because of social anxiety, lack of meaningful friendships, and bullying that often occurs at a vulnerable period in human development.
To combat my feelings of fear and sadness, I became the de-facto class clown of each school, out of what felt like necessity, in order to make people laugh and get other students to like me. Unfortunately, acting out became a recurring theme throughout grade school, and my education suffered from it because I never made time to focus on course work.
I was in 5th grade before I learned how to subtract large numbers because I never had the chance to complete the same math class that I started before that point. Each school that I attended was always covering a different section of the subject, so math never made sense to me because I didn’t have the proper foundation. In fact, I don’t think that I ever made above a D in a math class, and had to take remedial courses during my first two years of undergrad to catch up. Needless to say, I always felt dumb, and my intellectual confidence was crushed for a long time.
While I was a terrible student growing up, I was great at getting in trouble. I’m pretty sure that I set the record for the most days spent in in-school suspension and Saturday detention at my middle school. Although I barely graduated public high school, I hit my stride in college and excelled in my graduate programs, when it became clear that education was my ticket out of poverty in rural Kentucky. College was a significant motivator, and the only path I could see to being able to help my dad and others suffering from mental illness. I went to college for 9 years and walked about with a Bachelor’s degree and two Master’s degrees.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Hard work is something that was instilled in me from a very early age. I got my first job as a paper boy when I was 14. On my 16th birthday, when I was legally allowed to work more hours, I got hired at the very first KFC in Corbin, KY… Corbin’s only claim to fame. My parents always said “if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Although this wasn’t necessarily directed towards me in a literal sense, they made sure that I knew that they weren’t giving me anything extra that I didn’t earn.
I live by this quote, and because of it, I bought my first car on my own, paid for my own education, and now run a multi-million dollar mental health care business that I started with the 250.00 dollars I had in savings. To this day, I have never used a loan or outside financing for growth. I believe in working hard for everything you get.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I was blown away the first time I saw the movie, A Beautiful Mind. It’s a story about a genius who had Schizophrenia that came out in 2001, which is the year I found out that my father suffered from the same illness. After seeing this film, I became fascinated by the mind, and how people think and perceive the world around them. It made me want to pursue the mental health studies and it helped me to understand more about what my dad was living with at the time.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I got my first job in the mental health field in 2009 as a mental health associate at one of the oldest inpatient psychiatric hospitals in the country, just before finishing my undergrad program. This was one of the most rewarding times in my life, even though I was punched in the face, spit on, had feces thrown at me, bathed people regularly that didn’t necessarily want a bath, and worse.
For years, I was immersed in an environment where I was outnumbered by patients that were clinically insane and experience active psychosis. I feel fortunate that I got to experience it.
When I finished grad school and became a licensed counselor, I provided in-home services to children with autism, and also treated troubled kids and teens with emotional disorders in an outpatient office setting. After a couple of years, my mom died from brain cancer, and as a way to cope with grief, I started
Kentucky Counseling Center 4 days later in 2014. Although my goal in college was to start my own practice that would offer counseling and psychiatric services, losing my mom triggered me to start my business faster than I would have if I hadn’t needed a major distraction. I really hit the ground running and grew KCC fast enough to make the Inc. 5000 list in 2019 and 2020.
My company accomplished this by adding offices across the state as fast as we could to provide counseling, psychiatry, and case management to Kentuckians. I believe we’re successful because we keep things easy for our clients and just give them what they want when they want it. Mental health services are a sold product in my opinion. There’s a growing demand, and an underserved market. So, as long as we focus on quality assurance and customer service, I’m optimistic that we will sustain success for a long time.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
When we felt like the state was going to force our office doors shut, we didn’t have an option but to pivot quickly. I woke up on a Sunday morning in early March to brainstorm the plan, and by the end of the day Tuesday, our company had closed all 11 offices and fully embraced telehealth. We called our program KCC Direct and haven’t looked back. Today, 100% of our business is online, and it’s looking like we’ll generate more revenue in 2020 than we did in 2019.
Granted, we dabbled in telehealth for a couple of years prior, but it was an insignificant source of revenue. I’ve always believed that online mental health care is the future, but the hang up was convincing clients in Kentucky that it is more convenient than driving to an office. The pandemic forced this new model of care on clients all over the country. Today, we have more than 5,000 active clients and over 60% of them have no interest in returning to the office because they love online care. As a result, we’ve been letting offices go when their lease expires and redirecting those expenses into expanding KCC Direct.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I first got passionate about online mental health care in 2016, when we had to meet with a client via telehealth due to a behavioral health emergency that someone was suffering. At the time, we only had one psychiatry professional working with the company, and the client lived an hour away. The setup was so janky! We didn’t really know what we were doing as far as the technology and logistics were concerned, but we knew we had to see that client fast, and were willing to do anything necessary. So, my team and I made it happen, and I became hooked on trying to increase our telehealth foot print in Kentucky.
Fast forward a few years to 2019, when Kentucky changed the regulations to allow telehealth to be used for all mental health services that we provide. Previously, we were only able to offer medication management online, and the state guidelines made it very inconvenient to do so. Kentucky’s support for telehealth gave me the boost I needed. In my mind, this was the moment that predicated our successful pivot to 100% online mental health care when we were forced to close offices. I had been waiting on the chance to go hard at telehealth for years, and ironically, it took a world-wide pandemic for us to have that opportunity.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Things are going incredibly well, and I have a bit of survivors guilt at times because there are so many businesses that were destroyed this year. The company is in a fortunate position at the moment, and we have a lot of momentum behind us. I really like our positioning as an online mental health care provider in KY. I do think that there will always be a place for office-based care, especially for those with more acute needs. However, I’m fairly certain that our rent and utility expenses will continue to decrease over time.
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?
You know, there is someone in my life that I’m grateful for, and I’ve never even met him.
When I was in grad school, I attended a large conference breakout session by Norm Dasenbrook, from Chicago. He’s a counselor who was trying to sell consulting services and books to therapists who wanted to start their own practice. This dude was amazing and reminded me of a fast talking used car salesman. I felt like he could sell mud to the Mississippi River, and after the workshop, I bought his book online, and the seed was planted. His hour-long presentation that day convinced me that I was supposed to be a mental health entrepreneur, and he lit the path for me. I’m curious what my professional life would be like today without randomly attending his workshop.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
When we first rolled out telehealth, all of the providers had to learn how online care worked real fast. Many of the therapists and psychiatric prescribers in our network had never offered telehealth services before, so understanding nuances of how the technology worked was one of those things that was hard to master until a provider actually used it. During the first week or two of being a telehealth company, one of the therapists that we partner with had logged into his portal while getting ready to start his day. He had just gotten out of the shower and didn’t realize that his screen automatically took a picture of him as soon as he logged into his virtual waiting room.
About 10 minutes before his first appointment, his client reached out to my team to ask what was going on because the picture of his therapist that was on the portal, was a man without a shirt on and he had a towel wrapped around his waist! While this was a nightmare at the time, the client was very understanding, but told us that he needed to be transferred to a therapist that he wouldn’t be embarrassed to meet. The therapist had no idea that this had even happened and was absolutely mortified.
Lesson to telehealth providers: Don’t log into your portal until you’re ready to work.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- “You’re never going to finish your to-do list.” I used to obsess over my never ending to-do list, trying to complete everything on my plate, and it was exhausting. Ultimately, I realized that if you’re always trying to improve, you will never finish your to-do list because you’re not looking to settle.
- “You can’t please everyone.” No matter how much you try to make everyone happy with your product, you’re not going to. Some people are just never satisfied. If you do the best you can and do things the right way, you’ll be able to sleep at night.
- “Organic Search engine is paramount.” Many new businesses are so focused on paid ads because they are simple to setup and forget about. However, if you neglect your organic rankings, you’ll never get out from underneath the ever-growing CPC marketing expenses to showcase your brand.
- “Own it.” It took me 3 years to give myself the title of CEO because it felt weird. I had never been a manager for any company in the past, yet I found myself running a 7 figure business while being scared to own the title that best described my job. When you start your company, don’t limit yourself. Be what you want to become. You can start being confident whenever you want.
- “Master the work, train someone else to master it, then get it off your plate.” The faster you can delegate properly, the faster you will grow your business because you can focus on big picture items.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
This is pretty simple. News really is very dramatic these days, and trying to keep up with a 24 hour news feed is just exhausting, and really not necessary. I’ve recently removed all news and social media apps from my phone so I would stop getting alerts and temptation to keep up with it all. I value my time, and don’t want to be distracted by things that are not currently in front of me. Besides, these distractions can be toxic and can lead to depression, anxiety, etc. By choosing what I want to think about, I find that life is much more relaxing and enjoyable, instead of allowing news apps to tug at me.
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?
I wish that everyone would share a story online about a time that they really struggled with mental health. We’ve all been impacted by stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, etc. at one point in our lives, but there remains to be a huge stigma around behavioral health treatment. The more we talk about it, the more real it becomes. I want to live in a world where people are as comfortable seeing a mental health professional about their stress and worries, as they are about getting a physical. I want to make annual mental wellness checkups a thing. If anyone wants to start a Mental Wellness Checkup Day movement, hit me up.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I’d love to have lunch with my wife, Amy! We have two kids under 5 and with the pandemic in full force, it’s hard to find a sitter and a place to go. If you can tag a great sitter that has been quarantined for the last 14 days, have them hit me up. It would be amazing so we could have a date night again.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!