Kooth provides a welcoming space for effective, personalised digital mental health care, accessible to all.
An Interview with Tim Barker, CEO, Kooth
Tim Barker, CEO at Kooth, joined the company in 2020 after a 30 year track record helping build and grow startups and scaleups. “What deeply impressed me when I first came across Kooth (as it still does today!), was that Kooth has been a catalyst and advocate for digital mental health support for over 20 years. The breadth and depth of expertise within the organisation is incredible.” His job now is to take this expertise to help Kooth deliver on its vision to make effective, personalised, mental health support accessible to everyone.
Tell us about Kooth Plc. What was the inspiration for the business?
Kooth was founded way back in 2001 with the simple vision that you could use the internet to ransform mental health care in three ways. Firstly, to make support accessible to everyone.
Secondly, to tackle the stigma in seeking help by making Kooth an anonymous service, and thirdly, to empower people in their wellbeing journey by giving them choice and autonomy over what support they want, on their own terms.
What do you believe gives Kooth Plc an edge over its competitors?
Providing a safe, effective service at scale is not easy. We’ve established Kooth as a trusted, safe service that operates at nationwide scale. In addition, the volumes of data we’ve acquired on our journey give our commissioners unique insights into the changing trends and mental health issues within their local population, something which is becoming increasingly valuable given the stresses and strains on the NHS.
What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?
The hardest part has undoubtedly been establishing digital as a legitimate channel for mental health support. This alone took the first decade of Kooth’s existence. Today, there’s no debate about it, especially when supporting Gen Z/Millennials who were ‘born digital’.
How has SBRI Healthcare supported your business?
We received an SBRI Healthcare grant award in 2019 to develop and evaluate our peer support programme. We were able to scale up our activities section of peer support, and increase the value of what we provide. We also completed our first full scale independent mental health and economic outcomes study with the London School of Economics Care Policy and Evaluation Centre. This has also led to a health economic benefit study of Kooth by York Health Economics Consortium that is able to demonstrate the cost savings Kooth provides the health system. All this work has helped us increase the recognised importance of peer support for mental health in NHS commissioning.
In 2020 Kooth Plc became the first digital health services company to float on the London Stock Exchange. Tell us about your journey and the key lessons you learnt about setting up and scaling a business.
The rationale for floating on the London Stock Exchange was to raise capital to invest in the long term growth of Kooth in the UK and overseas. Scaling a business during the ‘time of COVID’ has bought its own challenges: building and maintaining the culture in a fast growing, remote organisation is much harder. Ensuring effective communications (both top down, and across departments) is more challenging. One of the first things we did in response is to purposefully define our values, communications approaches, and key company-wide missions to align everyone across the organisation as we grow.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their venture?
One of the things that worries me when I look at entrepreneurs is the growing mindset of raising as much capital as you can and growing as fast as you can (at all costs), before you exit/flip the business to someone. Having gone through the VC to exit journey several times myself, my advice is to “go slow to go fast.” You have to love the journey, don’t focus on the destination. Consider your entrepreneurial journey as a decade-long adventure. You have to enjoy the problem you are working on so much that you are willing to wake up every day for a decade to focus on solving it. Raising capital too early brings its own problems. It’s for this reason that I was so impressed with Kooth. They spent 15 years bootstrapping the business and building incredible depth of understanding in what they do before raising capital.
How does your technology contribute to tackling health inequalities and ensuring more equitable access to care?
One of the incredible advantages we have at Kooth is we can provide equity of access through digital to a whole population. In comparison, traditional ‘place based’ services cannot reach everyone economically. In addition, as an anonymous service, we help tackle stigma for individuals that may be less likely to use traditional mental health services.
What does the future hold for Kooth?
For us, the opportunity is to continue to expand Kooth to deliver a personalised, welcoming service to reach the 1-in-5 of the population that need mental health support every year. To get there, we see the huge potential to apply AI to the vast data lake that we’ve built over the last decade to personalise Kooth to an individual’s needs and help them get the most appropriate support, fast. The future for Kooth looks more like Netflix, not a chatbot counsellor.
Working with partners like Kooth is critical to making our services accessible, and allows us to provide support sooner and more flexibly - which is exactly what children, young people and their families have told us they need. Our North West London partnership has commissioned Kooth to offer a service that is integrated within our clinical teams and designed with children and young people themselves.
Tom Johnson, Programme Manager, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust