PlusGuidance: Nathaniel Smithies
The serial entrepreneur tells us how his personal challenge motivated him to launch a business that would make a difference
Name: Nathaniel Smithies
Company name: PlusGuidance
Date launched: 02/07/2015
Tell us what your business does:
PlusGuidance is an on-demand therapy service that helps anyone get instant access to the therapy they need, from the privacy and comfort of their own home or office. Users can choose to speak to a therapist via secure video call, voice call, instant messaging, or in-person.
Our mission is to improve the world’s mental health by creating immediate access to talking therapies.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I have experienced my own mental health challenge through anxiety problems, and so I set out to break down the barriers that stop people from getting therapy and from getting better. These include fear, stigmatisation, time, waiting lists and geographical constraints. PlusGuidance is the solution that achieves this.
How did you know there was a market for it?
One in four people suffer from a mental health problem and after opening up about my experience of not getting therapy and wishing there was an online solution, I had so many people tell me that they wished something like this existed too.
It was clear that something needed to change.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was studying Psychology at University, and running my web design and digital marketing company.
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Have you always wanted to run your own business?
No, not at all. In fact my main passion and pursuit has always been performing and writing music, but I turned down a management contract to pursue PlusGuidance more seriously.
I never was interested in business at all until I started to pick up web design. Soon after that I had the idea for PlusGuidance which was about solving a real problem, and from there my journey into the startup and business world began.
How did you raise the money?
By pitching to Angel Investors and working damn hard on the business plan, financials, building a team, getting traction, building relationships in the therapy industry, etc.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
We take a 15% fee from the therapists for new client sessions that happen on our platform.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
One big hurdle for us was an admin one, and becoming HIPAA compliant. It’s a long process, and an expensive one. So navigating that in an efficient way as a start-up was tough.
We overcame it with a lot of manual work from the team, going through data policies, documents, procedures (there are over 30!) as well as the technical implementations around handling data. We did most of the legwork to avoid higher legal costs, and had our big US law firm review and tweak everything at the end.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Probably our first client session. That was an amazing day where we all took a moment to think about the significance of what had just happened – someone finding our solution better than the alternatives, AND actually getting help with what they are struggling with and hopefully on the path to recovery.
That was amazing.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Don’t start a business because you want to start a business. Do it because you want to solve a problem. Do it because you’re truly passionate and excited about something.
That is what will give you the competitive advantage and will allow you to work harder, for longer hours, with more positive energy that will draw staff, members, investors, customers, and channel partners.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I will still be running PlusGuidance, I feel I have the best job in the world. But PlusGuidance will be the biggest therapy platform on the planet.