We recently met with Shanna Traphoner-Liu, Kellogg ’22/McCormick + founder of bekome, a web platform helping young adults find their right therapist based on personality, lifestyle and cultural fit, to learn more about her goals, challenges, and growth as a participant in Jumpstart, The Garage’s pre-accelerator program.
How is the summer going so far?
The summer is great. I think we have just enough structure to learn new things but also to refresh ourselves on things we’d learned prior to the program. It’s good there was an application process for Jumpstart where we had to show some progress, because many others in the program are kind of in the same place or stage. Because of that, there’s a baseline understanding of entrepreneurship and what it takes to succeed, but then there are great sessions where we’re all re-hashing topics like customer acquisition together as a group.
When we aren’t in sessions, I love that I can put 100% of my focus on bekome versus when I’m in classes, I have to do tons of things at a time. I think overall we’re making good progress. I’m grateful for the funding associated with Jumpstart because it gives us more freedom to make progress and run tests. It’s interesting – as entrepreneurs, we’re told to fail fast and often, but sometimes you need resources in order to fail, like paying for ads that fail and then revising them. But we’re also trying to be scrappy – just getting out there and talking to people to find out what they’re saying in support of our mission.
What are some challenges you’ve faced while building bekome?
People are very supportive of and bought into our mission of providing greater accessibility to the right types of mental healthcare. We’re trying to be the go-to platform for young adults to seek mental health care. Right now, it’s the “Hinge dating app” for therapy: finding a therapist that’s a good fit, not only in insurance and availability but also in personality, culture, background, and lifestyle.
The challenge is that when it comes to actually seeking care and using our service, our customers may take a while to get there, or as one of our customers put it – “drag their feet.” This totally makes sense because therapy is such an intentional and personal journey, and there’s a lot to understand before feeling ready to dive in, but when we put out ads or calls for beta users and people will only slowly trickle in, we wonder if we’re going in the right direction sometimes. This is why we’re also trying to work on simplifying the upfront education piece around finding therapy so we can help our customers feel truly confident in moving through the whole process.
Why did you start bekome?
My own mental health journey started in high school. I had a need for therapy, but I come from a traditional Asian family, and I grew up in the South where most people don’t look like me. I started therapy and the perspectives shared in those sessions were so different from mine, and I felt invalidated and misunderstood. In college, I tried therapy again and the same thing happened. Then again recently in grad school. And even when I tried finding a therapist through external sources, I still faced the same problem. I asked myself, “Why is this SO hard?!”
I believe this problem exists so rampantly because there are so many facets to finding a good fit but the current market players and workarounds don’t present enough information to help people find the fit. For example, there are different approaches in therapy. Some listen more; some interact more. But this information isn’t really shared with people anywhere.
If you do a Google search on “how to find a therapist,” it’s totally saturated and overwhelming, and many of those established services are more focused on insurance. Affordability is definitely important, but just because you find someone you can afford doesn’t mean you’ll find someone who makes you feel validated. The system is broken.
We want to become the concierge for young adults for the entire mental health journey. So, for example, what are the steps before talking to a therapist if you don’t feel ready? There is a common misconception that it’s therapy or nothing – and we want to figure out a way to guide people wherever they are and toward whatever they’re ready for. There’s lots of problems to solve in the space and we have a big vision, but right now we’re mainly focused on therapist fit.
What does the name mean?
It’s the idea to become a better person, and the “k” is to make it stand out in a sentence and be a conversation starter, too. It’s also indicative of how pursuing mental health is a journey, not a destination. I also heard that company names with a hard “k” sound do better!
Can you tell us more about you?
I am a second year student at Kellogg. Before Kellogg, I was a management consultant at Deloitte. I worked with a lot of big corporations and some smaller companies on people experience. I’m a huge people person – an extrovert, but also, I just want to see people thrive. So I focused on employee experience and customer experience, and later, diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies. I got my undergraduate business degree at UT Austin, and here at Kellogg, I’m a dual degree student in the MMM program.
What does bekome look like right now?
We have a technical web portal prototype and users – clients and therapists – are able to create profiles to give a more comprehensive view of themselves. Like Hinge, there are a lot of personal details, but also some personality and human elements mixed in. If a therapist is more humorous, we ask them to infuse that into their profile a bit. We also ask for personality indicators and what the therapist’s focus is on or their specialties. Their summary has question prompts like Hinge, for example “I became a therapist because…” to allow potential clients to resonate with them more when they’re browsing the list. We’ve had clients, for example, reach out to therapists just because they had similar hobbies like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu! We also ask for videos from the therapists, because it brings them to life and gives the clients a sense of if they’ll be comfortable with them in a room.
On the client side, we ask clients to share, to the degree that they’re comfortable, basic demographic information, whether they’ve been to therapy before and what they liked or didn’t like, as well as their current presenting challenges. These are questions that a therapist would ask in an initial consultation, and we’re hoping to help simplify the process so the matches already take these questions into consideration. While this information is used to enhance our ability to match clients with their right fit therapists, they’re kept highly confidential. We value privacy to the utmost degree and do not display client full names on our platform.
As part of the platform, when they finish their profile they are shown all of our therapists (eventually, we’ll be able to recommend a specific set of therapists), and pick the ones they like by “favoriting” or saving them where they can then compare and contrast. We currently have 11 on the platform. If clients are on mobile, they can actually “swipe” like a dating app! Once a client favorites a therapist, the therapist can also review that to see if it’s a good fit on their end, too. It gives therapists a way to have some choice, as well, which many have asked for.
Have there been any successful matches?
Yes! We’ve made 10 total matches so far. We’re checking in with them, so, after a couple of weeks we reach out with a survey and get some feedback. Of those who have responded, the feedback so far is very positive. Later on this summer, our tech intern will start working on making the algorithm more advanced, so we can really recommend a top three, and then clients can choose to see additional providers if they want to.
Who are your competitors?
Every other day, someone will send me a new company that’s similar to bekome. I mean, it’s a good thing that therapy and mental health is less stigmatized, but that means more people are seeing opportunity in the space. That’s not to say, however, that everyone is executing it well. We’ve heard negative things about a few of our competitors from clients and therapists, about their lack of care and the ability to deliver a true match. We’re trying to make sure we’re getting the therapist-client fit piece right, and we believe we can create a truly differentiated offering and experience once we get it fully right.
What is the future of mental health and how does bekome fit in?
We want to be the go-to platform for young adults to find mental health care. It’s great for first time therapy seekers – they can go to bekome and get a curated mental health plan. Maybe you get a 28-day plan to do things every day that will improve your mental health, or you’re matched with a support group, a coach, a therapist. Regardless, barriers are being broken down – but there is still some stigma in certain communities. People are more open to talking about mental health, but there’s a lot more work to be done. Hopefully, the future of mental health is one where everyone has access and it is a “no-brainer” to get help, similar to how it’d be a “no-brainer” to get help when someone breaks a bone. Mental health care for all is always going to be a journey, and we’re excited to continue to be part of it!
This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Jumpstart, The Garage’s pre-accelerator Program. For more information about Jumpstart, click here.