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Online start-ups tap into Ukraine's 359 million euro therapy market

Published on Nov 16, 2023

Ukrainian article of the week published in the 7th edition of the "What about Ukraine" newsletter on November 16th, 2023. The article was written by Anastasiia Neseniuk for Forbes.ua and was translated for n-ost by Tetiana Evloeva.

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Access the original article in Ukrainian via this link. It was first published on October 26, 2023.

In the photo: the team of the Ukrainian marketplace of psychologists, Rozmova. Photo provided by the press service for Forbes.ua.

STANDFIRST: Three start-ups are seeing expansion into Ukraine’s multi-million euro online therapy market, and are now opening businesses abroad

Since the full-scale invasion, Ukraine has seen the rise of at least three start-ups offering online therapy. One of them, Rozmova (which means Conversation) was launched in February 2022, and now has 3,000 clients per month.

Rozmova’s business model allows the company to operate as a platform connecting clients with licensed psychologists or psychotherapists, and it takes a percentage of the therapists’ earnings as a commission.

The site has a certain cachet. Rozmova’s page on Instagram has almost 18,000 followers and regularly collaborates with the Megogo broadcasting service, Lovespace sex shop, and Volodymyr Zavadiuk, the creative producer behind such TV projects as Holos [the Ukrainian version of The Voice], Dity [the Ukrainian The Voice Kids] and Tantsi z Zirkamy [the Ukrainian Dancing With the Stars].

Some influencers are happy to reveal they have used this service. Emma Antoniuk, a Ukrainian YouTube Vlogger with 85,000 subscribers, had three sessions with the start-up over the past three months.

This platform has even caught the attention of Ukranian stand-up comedian Slavik Martyniuk, who said in one of his performances:

“I found a mental health platform called Rozmova… It’s like a Tinder for psychologists, with the only difference being, you aren’t supposed to mess around with your match.”

Rozmova was founded by Dmytro Kovalenko and Dmytro Marakhovsky, the former commercial director of outsourcing company IntelVerse. It didn’t take off right away. At first, the experts were offering their patients free counselling and so the company wasn’t taking any commission.

So, did the start-up manage to make money out of the Ukrainians’ psychological trauma during the second year of a full-scale war?

Anxiety, Anger, Apathy

Ukraine’s Ministry of Health estimates over 15 million Ukrainians will need some form of psychological help after the war ends. The World Health Organisation (WHO) puts this figure at about 9.6 million. How many of them will actually approach a mental health expert depends on how mainstream therapy becomes, says Illia Bachurin, a corporate psychologist working with DTEK energy holding, and the IT company Genesis.

Rozmova's promotional strategy relies on advertising with opinion leaders and influencers. Niche bloggers with a high credibility charge a starting fee of USD 1,000, explains Kovalenko. Bloggers with bigger audiences such as Yevhen Yanovych, Vitaliy Hordiienko and the presenters from hit Youtube lifestyle show ебаут (About) can charge between USD 1,500 and 3,500 per episode, adds Illia.

The online format makes mental help services more accessible in places lacking respective specialists. Kovalenko admits that, while Kyiv has plenty of specialists, the Kyiv region is experiencing a lack of therapists.

So, what bothers Ukrainians the most? The top ten requests in the autumn of 2022 included uncertainty, anxiety, anger, apathy, and survivor’s guilt. As of autumn 2023, requests regarding PTSD and the aftermath of mental trauma are trending, adds Bachurin. Conservative estimates by Forbes show that Ukraine’s commercial psychotherapy market is currently worth about UAH 1.2 billion [~ 30.8 million euros ] monthly, which makes over UAH 14 billion [~ 359 million euros] a year.

This unfortunate trend has helped Rozmova as a business: during the full-scale invasion, the number of its customers increased tenfold.

Rozmova is also betting on the corporate segment. Among its corporate clients are the G.Bar beauty space, Fintech (Aventus Group), American food company ThredUp, and the charitable organisation Casers.

The cost of online therapy

The price range for a session is between UAH 500 and 3,600 per session [~ 18.83 to 92.40 euros], depending on the experience of the counsellor. Kovalenko refused to disclose the percentage they take as a commission. When contacted by Forbes, counsellors who work with the platform also refused to comment, citing proprietary information.

Rozmova’s competitor, pleso, takes about 30% of the fee as commission — according to its co-founder Oleksandr Bondariev. Unlike Rozmova, pleso has a fixed price of UAH 1280 [~32.85 euros] per session. “It’s a bit above the market average price,” adds Bondariev.

Another competitor, Mindly, has a different business model: their users can buy a UAH 500 [[~18.83 euros] subscription covering at least four sessions. Should the client fail to use them before the deadline, those sessions expire. “Subscription as a model is a bit hard to work with in this field,” believes Kovalenko.

Some users of Mindly, a service founded by Dmytro Podoliev and Mariia Smerechuk in June 2022, aren’t fond of this business model. “The wording in specifications for how each subscription plan works is very obscure,” argues Yelyzaveta Tymchenko, a client and a former employee at Noosphere Ventures. After she posted her complaint to Facebook, the service reimbursed her the cost of her unused sessions.

It wasn’t the only complaint the service received. “I was okay with my psychotherapist, my issues were rather regarding their business model,” says another user working in OSINT to Forbes (under the condition of anonymity). The user was also unable to cancel her sessions. Forbes reached out to Mindly with a request to comment, however. By the time of publication, they did respond.

How much money do online therapy services make?

According to Bondariev, pleso generates USD 100,000 [~ 92,000 euros] monthly, with 150 therapists and up to 2,000 users per month. On the start-up’s books are USD 250,000 [~ 229,941 euros] in investments from Google, the MIT EF CEE Poland Prize acceleration program, and Vadym Sinzheretskyi, the founder of the BUKI tutoring marketplace.

Rozmova would not disclose their finances. According to Kovalenko, the average bill is UAH 1,000 [~ 25.67 euro]. As per Forbes’ estimates, their monthly income amounts to USD 160,000–170,000 [~147,000–156,000 euros], with the service getting a lesser share of that sum and their therapists getting the rest.

In July 2023 Rozmova raised USD 200,000 [~184,000 euros] from investment fund Angel One Fund to start expansion into the Polish market. Their competitors, Mindly and pleso, have also entered that market. Around 25% pleso’ market is now concentrated in Poland, and this part of Bondariev’s business has almost reached breakeven point.

“Whether you want it or not, you have to launch services in Poland — including pleso, Mindly, and us,” says Kovalenko. He estimates his business is worth USD four million [~EUR 3.68 million]. “In a year, that estimate will double. We have every reason to develop further,” says the founder.

Rozmova in numbers

Founded in: 2022.

Founders: Dmytro Kovalenko and Dmytro Marakhovskyi. Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (KPI)-educated Kovalenko is the co-owner and CEO at outsourcer Uptech with a team of 200.

Investment: USD 100,000 [~ 92,000 euros] invested by the founders, and USD 200,000 [~184,000 euros] from Angel One Fund.

Worth: USD 4 million [~3.68 million euros]

Team: 18 employees, 173 psychologists and psychotherapists

Users (monthly): 3,000 (as of September 2023)

Sessions per month: 6,000 (as of September 2023)

Earnings: about USD160,000–170,000 [~147,000–156,000 euros] during September 2023 (estimated by Forbes).