The beauty of entrepreneurship is the ability to improve things you truly care about. Personally, mental health has always been a topic close to my heart, as I experienced the consequences it has on people’s lives first hand; for the good, as well as the bad. Not surprisingly, I got very excited when the topic popped up on our agenda in 2020, with the possibility of looking into it with the combined force of Sparrow Ventures.
Understanding the challenges
When exploring new opportunities in Venture Building, we are especially keen to understand whether a real challenge in a market actually exists, which we could then potentially solve.
To do so, we assemble small teams, who share the objective of generating meaningful insights within a short sprint of a week. One powerful way to generate such insights is by simply conducting interviews with potential customers, which were mental health practitioners and their clients in our case. In doing so, we soon started to get an idea of what would become the basis of our future venture:
- Mental health support in Switzerland is not easily accessible
- The market is fragmented consisting of lots of little practices run by 1–6 people
- Lots of psychotherapists find themselves in work arrangements their not satisfied with
- A regulatory change (the Anordnungsmodell) will potentially be introduced within the foreseeable future, which would have a significant impact on market dynamics
Our mission: Making mental health care accessible
Having identified challenges in the market, our team decided to embark on the mission of making mental health care more accessible for all citizens of Switzerland.
To provide easy access to quality mental health support, we envisioned to develop a platform that matches people in need with the most suitable mental health practitioners. To get sufficient practitioners onto the platform, we thought of building co-practice locations that shall become the best working environment for our members they have ever experienced.
In short, we wanted to build a modern co-practice for mental health called WePractice.
Testing the business idea
Once we had developed the business idea, we moved forward in the Venture Building Process by identifying hypotheses that could threaten our success, on a high level these were:
- Would mental health practitioners accept support in getting matched with clients?
- Is there a sufficient need for a modern co-practice allowing for flexible therapy room booking?
- Would the regulatory change enforce existing paint points and/or create new ones?
To find answers to these questions, we created simple tests to gather data on which basis we could make informed decisions.
For instance, we offered mental health practitioners to be matched up with potential clients, all without any digital platform yet, but via email only. We even went as far as gathering reservation agreements for a co-practice location that we have not built yet.
This way, we were able to validate our hypotheses and create additional learnings within a short amount of time whilst keeping our investment in check.
Launching a good enough product
As no red flags popped up during the 4-weeks testing phase, we concluded to move forward in the process.
This meant to launch a Minimal Viable Product (MVP), which is a first version of a product that is just good enough to enable initial transactions and focuses on learnings. This way, we would only build what was truly necessary to get started, to then evolve based on customers’ feedback.
As building physical co-practice locations would be costly and less scalable, we first launched the digital part of our business idea, hence, a platform helping clients to get matched with mental health practitioners (wepractice.ch).
During the roughly 8 weeks that we needed to build, launch and test the platform, we got even closer to our customers and increased our confidence that a physical co-practice location would meet the needs of the market.
Scaling phase: Growing from 1 to 10 locations
The first co-practice saw the light of existence on March 1st, 2021 in Zurich. It gave us the opportunity to test more hypotheses and collect data. Most importantly, however, it brought us really close to our customers, which proved to be invaluable.
Soon we had onboarded 40 members and needed to move other potential customers onto a waiting list. This was a strong indicator that we were on the right track to product-market-fit, because of what we geared up for growth.
Throughout that process, we began to work with our finance team to craft a business plan that built the basis for our Series A and eventually Series B fundraising round. The capital was needed to first prove that we can reproduce the success of our first location to then expand the model across Switzerland. In March 2022 we started with the rollout of further locations in cities like Winterthur, St. Gallen, Basel, Bern and Chur. We now operate 8 co-practice locations, 10 by the end of the year, which should serve over 250 members.
To manage this growth, we assembled an amazing team consisting of 13 talents in the fields of Operations, Customer Success, Product Management, Marketing, Sales and Psychology and a management team was nominated.
Many practitioners, one community
As important as our team are our mental health practitioners. Without their motivation to join our mission, their relentless efforts to help us improve and the impact they make on people’s lives every day, we would not be where we are now.
Our ambition is to improve both access and quality of mental health care in Switzerland- together with our community. For 2023 we have planned to open further WePractice locations not only in the German speaking part of the country but also entering the Romandy.
For more information visit the website www.wepractice.ch
This article was written by Silvan who assumed the position of Head of Operations (COO) at WePractice. He previously worked as Senior Venture Architect at Sparrow Ventures.