Headspace Health announced two acquisitions this year, the most recent earlier this month when the digital mental health company announced it would acquire mental wellness app Shine.
In a crowded field of For mental health startups, the company uses acquisitions to expand its product and add new capabilities. Headspace Chief Product and Design Officer Leslie Witt said the Shine deal is part of a larger effort to offer content that serves the needs of more groups, including people of color, women and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Headspace Health too snapped up Sayana, maker of AI-enabled apps for tracking mental health and sleep. And Headspace itself is the result of a merger between meditation app Headspace and virtual psychiatric company Ginger, which shut down nearly a year ago.
Witt sat down Mobile Health News to discuss the company’s acquisition strategy, how its offering may change in the future, and what’s next for the highly competitive digital mental health sector.
Mobile Health News: So this wasn’t Headspace’s first acquisition this year. How do you choose your acquisition targets? Do you think you will continue at a similar pace?
Leslie Witt: I think, as I’m sure you can see, the long-rumored consolidation of the mental health and behavioral health fields is starting to happen. In a way, most of our story that melds with that is the fusion of Ginger and Headspace.
But we see a lot of possibilities across three lenses. Most of the acquisitions we’ve made, both as a combined entity and some of the acquisitions we’ve made separately, fit within the lens of both content that align with our core mission and help extend our reach from a self-service magnify the perspective of mental health, skills that bring new levels of technology – particularly in relation to AI, conversation and community – and then talent.
All of this has been done as part of small tuck-ins where we don’t seek to maintain their offering as a standalone company, but instead incorporate the talent they bring to the table into our core areas of prioritization to accelerate building our capabilities and then expand our content libraries.
MHN: You’ve been with Headspace for about two years, not too long before the merger with Ginger. How has the experience changed from a product perspective?
Witt: I’m going to tell you a little bit about why I joined Headspace, which basically consisted of answering what we heard from our potential members – often members who walked in and then didn’t find what they needed, which was psychic Health with a higher focus on services and care. And from our corporate buyers, they saw this popular brand, a well-known brand that attracted 30%, 50% of their employees to sign up and open a front door to care.
But this front door only led so far. I fundamentally believe in the power of mindfulness and meditation tools, but they cannot meet all mental health needs. And especially when someone is in a state of acute anxiety or acute depression, they need access to professional human services.
For Headspace, this led to an immediate realization that without a merge we had no viable and quick ways forward, and Ginger was the perfect partner to pair with. We have worked in this landscape of ministry over the past year to ensure that we can truly open the front door to care for all. That we can learn who you are, what you need, assess your goals, and assess you individually for the right way to transition care and where to start. And put you on a path where we truly set the dimensions of a lifelong mental health journey and help you build habits of practice that will give you a deeper capacity for self-care that can then be expanded upon as needed.
MHN: What are some of your goals for changing your offering in the future?
Witt: One is personalization – not just of the services, but also of the measurement and the outcome – so that we can continuously find ourselves in a learning and improvement loop, where we understand what you need from the start, serve the right thing and evaluate if whether or not this was actually the case effectiveness for you, both on an individual and collective level.
We’re building out what I often call the middle piece, the bridge that exists between the self-service 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 started a stress program. This is a 30-day program that takes you from an introduction to stress reduction to a stress reduction habit and practice in a clinically and behaviorally sound way. We’re doing the same thing with anxiety and sleep, and we see a lot of potential for building the interplay between coaching and that human support into the core product itself.
And then, last but not least, I think we have a lot of opportunities in the community. We see people engaging in specific content areas on an almost cohort basis. [For example,] We see people coming to Headspace in moments of confrontation with infertility and see great potential and a desire to start connecting community and peer-based support.
MHN: There are many digital mental health companies out there right now, and you mentioned earlier that we may be at the beginning of a combination wave. How do you think the space as a whole will change this year?
Witt: Among other things, I see that we are going back to some of our pre-COVID norms in a very good way. And with that, I think there’s a lot of pressure [figuring out] what is the persistence, the relevance of telemedicine.
What we generally find is that of all telehealth services, those that are the most sticky in a digitally delivered format actually are behavioral health.
We’re beginning to focus on addressing some of these adolescent mental health crises. I think that’s not being addressed enough at the moment. And as a mother of 11-year-old twins, seeing what’s happening in this landscape, there needs to be more participants in this space. And we need to celebrate those who have already been there and ensure their skills and access continue to grow for all.
We also see where companies have played an outsized role in promoting employee access to mental health services. More and more needs and support are coming from the public sector. We have a relationship with LA County and see great potential for partnerships with governments, educational institutions and, more broadly, health systems to ensure the goals of health parity and health equity are met.