Ryan Schwartz of Mental Health Match: “People don’t care what you are doing, they care why you are doing it”

The job of a CEO is to build the team, set the vision, and make sure there is money in the bank.” This one has been helpful to keep me focused on what matters. I do a lot to keep the company growing and it is easy to get lost in the details. I come […]

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The job of a CEO is to build the team, set the vision, and make sure there is money in the bank.” This one has been helpful to keep me focused on what matters. I do a lot to keep the company growing and it is easy to get lost in the details. I come back to this advice regularly to make sure I am taking care of the most important parts of being a CEO.

As a part of our series bout business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Schwartz.

Ryan Schwartz is the founder of Mental Health Match, a free, confidential tool that matches people to the therapists and counselors who best meet their needs. Ryan became passionate about simplifying the search for mental health care after his mother suddenly passed away and he searched for a grief therapist. Prior to Mental Health Match, Ryan was the principal of Full Focus Communications, a nonprofit messaging and strategy firm.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

In 2013, I searched for a therapist for the very first time. My mom had suddenly passed away and I felt like I was walking through the world like a zombie, trying to support my father and the rest of my family. A friend suggested I talk to a therapist, and I was shocked to see how frustrating it was to search for a mental health professional. I didn’t speak the language of therapy, didn’t know what I needed, and didn’t really know how to evaluate who was right for me. I bounced from therapist to therapist who were not good fits for me and just felt lost.

A few months after my mom’s funeral, I was still looking for a therapist when I was with a friend at a coffee shop. I was scrolling through impersonal listings of counselors, and she was setting up a dating profile. In just a couple minutes, she was being matched with potential loves of her life, and I was still stuck in an internet rabbit hole. That’s when it occurred to me: it should be easier to find a therapist than a life partner.

I didn’t do much with this idea for a couple of years. I figured the mental health search process was so outdated that someone else would fix it. A few years later, I looked again for a therapist and discovered nothing had changed. That’s when I decided to do something about it. I did market research and learned that therapists were just as frustrated about the lack of effective tools to connect them with clients. This spurred me to search for an angel investor and start the journey to develop Mental Health Match.

When I reflect on my backstory, there is my personal experience that helped me see the immediate need. There’s my passion for helping people and improving the world. But something I’ve just begun to grasp is that this path is also a way for me to make some sense of my mom’s sudden death, a way to keep me connected to her and have something good come from something so devastating. I get chills thinking that Mental Health Match made our first dollar on the anniversary of my mom’s passing.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Therapy is unlike any other medical profession. If you need a dentist, the one closest to you is probably good enough. The dermatologist you see first in your insurance list can probably give you the treatment you need. But success in therapy depends on the personal connection you have with your therapist, if their style is a match for you, and if you feel like you can trust and be vulnerable with them. In therapy, personality can make all the difference.

Prior to Mental Health Match, there was no way to evaluate those factors. People often just picked a name from a list and hoped for the best. Or they got a referral from a friend or Doctor without evaluating if the therapist was a good fit for their own needs. At the same time, therapists had no clear way to market their services. It was classic market friction: demand and supply lacked an effective marketplace and could not connect with each other.

Mental Health Match changes the game by creating that effective marketplace. We’ve taken the best tools from online dating and applied them to the search for mental health. We use a matching algorithm, intake survey, and personal profiles to make it easy to find the therapist right for you. Now, in just a couple minutes, someone can find the therapist whose expertise, style, and costs meet their needs. They learn about the therapist so they can be sure there is the likelihood of a personal connection. And just as important, therapists can now easily connect with the clients who fit their practice.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We call it the Ken mistake.

When we first started, we gave people all the options our user research had identified that people want, including the ability to find a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication. The problem is that most people don’t know the difference between a talk therapist and a psychiatrist; they just know they want a mental health professional. The site was designed specifically around talk therapy and not psychiatry.

In the first two weeks of our launch, nearly everyone asked for someone who could prescribe medications. We only had one psychiatrist listed: Ken. The result is that all the traffic went to Ken!

The lesson we learned is a common one in startups: don’t give customers what they ask for, dig deeper to figure out the true pain point. (The common adage is if Henry Ford listened to his customers, he’d have designed a faster horse.) Our customers told us they wanted the ability to find a therapist who also has prescriptive powers, but that’s a unicorn in the mental health field. Instead, their pain point was really around the confusing jargon of therapists and needing to better understand their options and what is actually available to them.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Our best mentors have been our therapist customers. They love what we’re doing and have offered to help us develop the nuance that only deep insiders in their profession understand. For example, we had an option to find therapists who are trauma-informed, but nearly every therapist said they had this qualification. So our mentors suggested we change it to deep trauma training so that it would be more selective.

Another close mentor has been our angel investor. They keep me focused on the business development goals. As the CEO of a small startup, I run marketing, sales, and product development. It is easy to get distracted by product and our mentor has helped me create structure around data and reporting to stay focused on the growth of the business.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

There is definitely a negative disruption in the mental health space. There has been a rush to replace traditional therapy with methods that are superficial and taxing for both client and therapist. There are now apps that allow you to text a therapist, apps that replace therapists with robots and AI, and apps that connect you to peers for mental health advice. All of these options are potentially very harmful!

If someone is in crisis, suicidal, or traumatized, these options are easily accessible but can deliver dangerous advice and outcomes. Can you imagine what an inexperienced, overworked therapist might accidentally say over text message when they don’t really know their client? Or the symptoms they’d miss or misinterpret? Or imagine what an AI bot or untrained peer could say to someone who is suicidal or in crisis?

We need mental health to be more accessible, but we need to center that accessibility around the trained therapists who have delivered helpful care for decades.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The job of a CEO is to build the team, set the vision, and make sure there is money in the bank.” This one has been helpful to keep me focused on what matters. I do a lot to keep the company growing and it is easy to get lost in the details. I come back to this advice regularly to make sure I am taking care of the most important parts of being a CEO.

Paul Graham’s Startup Curve.” When I first started, everyone showed the same hockey stick models of growth. But that’s not how startup growth actually happens. Seeing this version — complete with wiggles of false hope and a trough of sorrow — help me stay resilient and focused. We’ve been through ups and downs, and this curve is posted on the wall above my monitor to keep me resilient and grounded through it all.

“The idea is the kindling, but the passion keeps it burning.” This work is hard work! It was fun coming up with the initial idea, building an MVP, and launching it. But that doesn’t make a company. There has been lots of late nights and slogs through planning that are far from fun. If I didn’t have the passion, I wouldn’t have been able to keep the persistence. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing to see it through.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I think it is time to come back to the Ken problem and start including psychiatrists in our platform.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Start with Why by Simon Sinek. People don’t care what you are doing, they care why you are doing it. Yes, the features of our product are what is creating disruption. But more than that is the “why” behind our brand: a true passion for people, their wellbeing, and a belief in the power of therapy to help people heal, grow, and find relief. Our biggest evangelists love the product, but even more, they love this purpose.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This quote infuses everything I do. It shapes how I manage employees and how I relate to investors. It shapes our UX so that people remember feeling safe, supported, and normal when they search for therapists. It is similar to Simon Sinek’s lesson. You’ve got to make people feel something for them to care about you.

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. 🙂

I really believe everyone should experience the power of therapy. So much conflict, dissatisfaction, and pain stem from the way we hold in and ignore our feelings. As an American cis-gendered male, I wasn’t raised to explore and articulate my feelings. Through therapy, I’ve become much more in touch with how I feel and have seen firsthand how I better understand myself, relate to people around me, and connect to my deepest values and passions. We all deserve to have a similar opportunity.

How can our readers follow you online?

We’re on Facebook and Instagram: @mentalhealthmatch. My personal Linked in is: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mentalhealthmatch/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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