October 10th is World Mental Health Day this year, and we are excited about today’s episode of Digital Health Interviews; we wanted to talk with the CEO of a mental health startup. So our guest is Hannes Klöpper, the CEO and co-founder of HelloBetter — one of the most successful startups in Germany now.
Hannes Klöpper: CEO and Co-founder of HelloBetter, a digital mental health care pioneer that builds innovative solutions for the prevention and treatment of a broad range of mental health conditions. Before creating HelloBetter, Hannes co-founded iversity, an online education startup. He co-authored a book with Professor Yehuda Elkana on the future of higher education entitled “The University of the 21st Century”. He holds a Dual-Masters in Public Administration from Columbia University and the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and a B.A. in International Relations from Technische Universität Dresden. Additionally, he spent a semester at Sciences Po Strasbourg and completed the Academy Year program at the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin. Hannes has been a startup founder for more than ten years.
At first, Hannes talks about iversity — an e-learning platform that gained more than one million users and raised over seven million dollars. 5-7 years ago, it was rather complex to raise funds. So, how was it?
Hannes Klöpper: “On the one hand, there was a lot less capital and fewer funds; on the other — it was not so professionalized. My team and I were greenhorns. Most of us didn’t have any other job; it was all learning by doing and self-taught, trying to figure things out. We wouldn’t get money today with the level of experience we had at that time. There were few resources and much less transparency in the market in 2011; there weren’t hundreds of blogs telling you how everything worked or YouTube channels and podcasts. There was a broad range of investors, but our way was similar to a roller coaster.”
Then the company was sold, but Hannes sees it as not a big exit: “We had a strong vision of what a good course could be. It has a future, and we are happy we’ve found a partner who bought the company, integrated it, and still operated it today”.
After that, he started HelloBetter — a digital therapeutics platform transforming mental healthcare, by establishing a new treatment modality in the form of digital therapeutics (DTx) for a broad range of mental health conditions. More than 30 RCTs published in peer-reviewed journals and five prescription DTx with regulatory approval make HelloBetter a global category leader in the space.
Hannes Klöpper: “It is a very complex business. We brought in other experienced people for product, tech, operations, and marketing and expanded the original founding team to eight people. It is unusual, but giving the complexity to our business was the best decision we could make. On the product side, we do content production and have a tech product and a service component where psychologists give feedback to our patients. That’s already quite complex to build. Then at the next step, you have to evaluate this in clinical studies and take it through regulatory processes with regulatory agencies, information security, data protection the whole legal environment. When you finally get the product approved, you need to bring it to market.”
HelloBetter is translating cognitive behavior therapy into a digital experience: “We encourage people to change their lives. We help people learn how to feel better and do an essentially educational product in healthcare. We give people the tools they need to understand what’s going on and change it. First, you can reflect on your current situation: how you feel, why you feel bad, and what vicious cycles you get stuck on. Second, you learn ways how you can break out of them. Then there’s a coach component; we have psychologists in our team who provide synchronic feedback on their progress, answer any questions, and ensure people use the product correctly.”
The firm worked with individual insurance companies, so they decided everything about the payment for the product. But with the introduction of DiGA, once the product is approved, all insurance companies in Germany are legally mandated to pay for it. You don’t have to have sales conversations anymore. The focus shifts to getting a prescription for the patient to use the product for free.
The heads of HelloBetter are thinking ahead of new territories for their business. France is opening up its market, copying the German regulatory framework with adaptations. There will be a conference in Luxemburg, where many European countries will present their legislative frameworks for a DiGA-like approval process. Hannes hopes HelloBetter can also move to the US market through different pathways.
Hannes Klöpper: “You can't grow fast if you spend less money to be profitable. It’s a blue ocean market, and we are at the land-grab moment. If you’re too slow, there will be competitors which will push you out of it.”
Hannes thinks that in the nearest future, the following kinds of digital solutions will be actual for mental health:
AI — usage of machine learning for identifying people that are at risk of dropping out of the mental health program;
digital biomarkers analyzing data that are collected by phone allowing to predict who is going to slip into depression;
personalized therapy by treatment pathways and programs;
metaverse in certain areas for panic treatment.
And traditionally, at the final of the episode, there are some invaluable pieces of advice for startup founders in digital health.
Hannes Klöpper: “A startup is a marathon, not a sprint. Fit for a long time, have good self-care routines, eat healthily, and sleep enough. These things are critically important for yourself and for your company. If you are constantly at the edge of burnout, you won’t take on these complicated challenges, and you won’t question yourself. It’s like on the plane emergency case: put the mask on yourself first before you help others. If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t take care of your company.”
Our previous episode was with Jack Godau: Building a Product for Doctors When MVP Is Just Not Enough.
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