In a crowded field of mental health startups, the company is using acquisitions to augment its product and add new capabilities. Leslie Witt, Headspace’s chief product and design officer, said the Shine deal is part of a larger effort to offer content that caters to the needs of more groups, including people of color, women and the LGBTQIA+ community.
It’s also scooped up Sayana, maker of AI-enabled mental health-tracking and sleep apps. And Headspace Health itself is the result of a merger between meditation app Headspace and virtual mental healthcare company Ginger, which closed nearly a year ago.
Witt sat down with MobiHealthNews to discuss the company’s acquisition strategy, how its offering may change in the future and what’s next for the competitive digital mental health sector.
MobiHealthNews: So this wasn’t Headspace’s first acquisition this year. How do you choose your acquisition targets? Do you think you’ll continue at a similar pace?
Leslie Witt: I think, as I’m sure you’re seeing, the long-rumored consolidation of mental health and behavioral health areas is starting to happen. In some ways, the biggest part of our story that merges with that is the merger of Ginger and Headspace proper.
But we see a lot of opportunity across three lenses. Most of the acquisitions that we’ve made both as a combined entity and some of the ones that we’ve made separately fit the lens of, either content that aligns with our core mission and helps to augment our reach from a self-serve mental health perspective, capabilities that bring new levels of tech — particularly around AI, conversation and community — and then talent.
All of these have been in the frame of small tuck-ins, where we’re not looking to sustain their offering as a standalone, but instead to incorporate the talent that they bring to the table into our core areas of prioritization, to accelerate our capability building and then to augment our content libraries.
MHN: You’ve been at Headspace for about two years, not too long before the merger with Ginger. How has the experience changed from the product point of view?
Witt: I’ll share with you a bit of why I joined Headspace, which was fundamentally to answer what we were hearing from our potential members — often members who came in and then didn’t find what they needed, which was higher-acuity mental health services and care. And from our enterprise buyers, they were seeing this well-loved brand, a well-known brand that was attracting 30%, 50% of their employee base to sign up and open a front door to care.
But that front door only led so far. I fundamentally believe in the power of mindfulness and meditation tools, but they can’t serve all mental health needs. And particularly when someone’s in a state of acute anxiety, acute depression, they need access to professional, human services.
For Headspace, it led to a direct realization that we had no viable and fast paths forward without merging, and Ginger was the perfect partner to pair with. We’ve been working across that landscape of services for the last year to ensure that we truly can open the front door to care for all. That we can learn who you are, what you need, assess your goals, triage you in a personalized capacity to the right kind of handoff of care, to the right beginning. And get you on a path where we’re really establishing the dimensions of a lifelong mental health journey, helping you build habits of practice that give you deeper self-care capability that then can scale up when the need occurs.
MHN: What are some of your goals to change your offering in the future?
Witt: One is personalization, not just of services, but of measurement and outcome. So that we can continuously be in a learning and improvement loop where we understand what you need from the onset, serve up the right thing, evaluate whether or not that actually had efficacy for you, and do that both at the level of the individual and in aggregate.
We are building out what I often call the middle piece, the bridge that exists between the self-serve content in the Headspace app and the text-based coaching, teletherapy and telepsychiatry of the Ginger service.
To really focus on more clinical content and programmatic content, we have launched a stress program. That’s a 30-day program that really takes you in a clinical and behavioral science-backed way from an introduction to stress reduction into a habit and practice of stress reduction. We’re doing the same across anxiety and sleep, and see a lot of potential to begin to hybridize the interplay between coaching and that human level of support into the core product itself.
And then last but not least, I think we have a lot of opportunity around community. We see folks almost engaging in kind of cohort-based ways around certain areas of content. [For example,] we see people coming to Headspace in moments of grappling with infertility and see a lot of potential and desire to begin to link community and peer-based support.
MHN: There are a lot of digital mental health companies right now, and you mentioned earlier we may be at the beginning of a combination wave. How do you think the space overall will change this year?
Witt: Some of the ways that I see the game changing is that we are going back to, in very good ways, some of our pre-COVID norms. And with that, I think there’s a lot of pressure on [figuring out] what is the persistence, the relevance of telehealth.
What we are generally finding is that, of all of the telehealth services, the ones that are the most sticky in a digitally delivered format are actually behavioral health.
We are beginning to lean into addressing some of that adolescent mental health crisis. I think that is under-tackled right now. And as a mom of 11-year-old twins who sees what is happening within that landscape, there needs to be more entrants in this space. And we need to celebrate those who’ve already been there and make sure that their ability and access is continued to be expanded for all.
We also are seeing where enterprises played an outsized role in leaning into employee access to mental health services. More and more need and buy-in is coming through from the public sector. We have a relationship with LA County, and we see a lot of potential to partner with governments, with educational institutions, and more broadly with health systems in order to ensure that the goals of health parity and health equity are met.