Work-Bench Founder Spotlight: Spring Health Co-Founder & CEO April Koh on Executing a Mission Driven Approach

Jun 27, 2023
Work-Bench Founder Spotlight: Spring Health Co-Founder & CEO April Koh on Executing a Mission Driven Approach
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In 2016, April Koh set out to change the face of mental healthcare by launching Spring Health. Today, Spring Health has brought that vision to life, making mental healthcare accessible to over 5 million people across more than 200 countries through Fortune 500 and tech customers such as Microsoft, The Hershey Company, Blackrock, WholeFoods, General Mills, and more. Despite their phenomenal growth, Spring Health continues to knock down doors with their most recent $71M fundraise at a $2.5B valuation in April 2023.

As the youngest woman to run a unicorn, we chatted with April to discuss what keeps her motivated, the major inflection points of her customer understanding, and biggest advice for fellow founders:

To kick us off, what does Spring Health do?

Our core goal is to eliminate every barrier to mental health. We believe the mental health system is rife with inefficiencies that stand between patients and the care they need, and we’re built to eliminate those inefficiencies to help more people faster.

Spring Health is a comprehensive mental health solution for employers and health plans. Unlike any other solution, we use a data- and AI-driven approach called Precision Mental Healthcare to seamlessly pinpoint and deliver exactly the right fit for each person — whether that’s digital support, meditation exercises, coaching, therapy, medication, and beyond. Most directly, we are disrupting the mental health service platforms offered as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or through health plans — the vast majority of which make it hard for an individual to get the help they need. 

What’s your background and how has your expertise helped you tackle this problem / build this product?

My co-founder, Adam Chekroud, and I met at Yale University — I was finishing my bachelors, and he was finishing his PhD. He was the first to prove that Machine Learning could outperform psychiatrists in pinpointing exactly what treatment would work for someone. I came across his research and reached out to him via email. I believed that his research — applying data to mental healthcare to make it much more precise and successful — represented the future of mental healthcare and could vastly improve a deeply flawed system.

As we set out to build Spring Health, I had some product experience that proved useful as we thought about how to take the academic concepts Adam developed and turn them into a real product and service that could find a fit with the market.

Beyond that, the most important part of my background was that I was – and I remain – highly mission driven.

I had seen friends and loved ones face mental health challenges that were only compounded by their struggles to navigate the care system to get the help they needed. The commitment to eliminate those barriers every step of the way continues to drive me to this day.

What’s the #1 thing you’ve learned about building and engaging a community of users/members?

It’s so important to always be listening to what your different communities are saying. Our first value at Spring Health is “Members come first.”

Putting members first means not just asking them the questions you think are important, but giving them space to share their challenges, successes, and recommendations.

For one example: By listening to our community of providers, we learned about the pain points of negotiating digital logistics and records while managing a full patient load. From that input we had the idea to build what’s become our next-generation electronic health record (EHR) system called Compass, which offloads the challenging logistics and time-draining management tasks onto us so providers can focus their energy on caring for patients.

Similarly, we hear all the time from our members about what works and what doesn’t work because we’ve built a relationship where it's clear their feedback is seen, engaged with, and appreciated.

What’s been the #1 hurdle selling to your customers? How are you overcoming that hurdle?

Our culture is thankfully now at a place where most everyone accepts that mental health is important and understands the value in talking with us about how we can help their employees or member base. And once we’re through that door, we’re focused on proving that working with Spring Health is not only a chance for people to be healthier, but it’s also a demonstrably good use of their money – offering a positive ROI well in excess of anything else on the market.

A peer-reviewed 2022 study in JAMA Network Open actually proved that there’s a positive ROI for employers who have signed their teams up for Spring Health, and that’s the value proposition that wins customers. The logic is clear: A mentally healthy workforce means fewer sick days, more efficient work days, and superior retention that adds up to much more than the cost of Spring Health.

How would you summarize your fundraising experience?

The fundraising experience in general is obviously grueling, but our investors have been invaluable throughout the seven years since Adam and I founded Spring Health. Work-Bench supported us on GTM strategy early on, making customer introductions and providing advice on how to navigate the sales process. I’m a firm believer in hearing a bunch of opinions before making any crucial decision, and it has been a relief to know I can call on our world-class investors for guidance whenever a thorny issue arises.

What’s the #1 piece of advice you wish you knew earlier that you would share with other founders early on their enterprise software journey?

My top advice to entrepreneurs in any field is that they need to have a mix of confidence and humility. 

You must have confidence in your idea so that you can handle it when it’s inevitably questioned or misunderstood. And humility is essential for accepting that mistakes happen, and realizing that the key to success is learning from them and committing to constant improvement.

What’s the long-term vision for Spring Health? How do you plan to scale it there?

Our vision for Spring Health is to create a company that allows anyone, literally anyone, to come onto our platform and instantly find exactly the right fit for what they’re going through. In other words, create a zero-friction future for mental health care. To us, this has to start with serving as many people as possible, and it continues by ensuring that those people have access to as many treatments and options as possible. We have a saying at the company – often new innovations in healthcare focus on the 1%, but we’re here to serve 100% of people.

To do this, we’re constantly adding new options and features, working to optimize our teams to be better human support, and working on our algorithms to be more precise and effective and to make our options as comprehensive as possible. To reach that goal, we’ve added options to our portfolio, including coaching, substance abuse, eating disorders, and others. We have much more robust resources for families. And that’s our vision – to keep broadening and adding more options so that we can offer more and more help.

More advice from April:

If you're a Fortune 500 or tech company looking to provide a holistic approach to your employees' wellbeing, please reach out to Spring Health. 

VC Perspectives