Cope Notes is a service that provides daily mental health support via text message. They text people once a day at a random time, and the text can include a psychology fact, exercise, advice, encouragement or a prompt that people can respond to and journal back. The goal is to guarantee one interruption to a negative thought pattern every day.
Cope Notes CEO Johnny Crowder noticed that when people had to elect to use mental health services, that they were less likely to do so. Whereas most mental health apps collect data on their users, Cope Notes is completely anonymous.
During this year’s Synapse Summit in Tampa, Grit Daily sat down with Crowder, who told us about his life, what led to his idea for Cope Notes and his hopes for the future of the business.
Grit Daily: What’s the story behind Cope Notes? What was the motivation behind creating it?
Johnny Crowder: Classic entrepreneur story – I experienced a lot of this stuff myself. I’m a suicide and abuse survivor, so I’m very happy to be alive and I spent 10 years in treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, OCD, a few other diagnoses. I tried everything I could find – medication, therapy, vitamins, meditation apps, books, podcasts. I wound up going to school for psychology because I wanted to become a clinician. I started doing advocacy through the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, in 2011, and that’s when I started realizing that a lot of people won’t use existing treatment options. They might not go to a therapist because they don’t trust therapists, or they might not use a mediation app because apps collect data and then share it with advertisers.
So, I noticed that a lot of people, including myself, had pretty big barriers when it came to using mental health resources but primarily one was that people had to choose to use something every day, and most days I couldn’t brush my teeth or fold my laundry or make my bed, so I think it’s a flaw by design.
Designing treatment in such a way that people have to elect to utilize it on a daily basis is like setting people up to fail, so I wanted to build something that could guarantee that daily engagement even on days when people didn’t feel like reaching out.
GD: Is there an interactive app or do subscribers just get the messages?
JC: This is the coolest part. It’s ALL via text messages – start to finish. You don’t have to download any apps, you don’t have to create an account with a password and all this stuff. Just like you would text your friends – it is all right there in a text conversation in your phone, and this allows us to keep it anonymous, so we don’t collect names, addresses, we don’t have access to any personal identifying information.
GD: How do you get revenue?
JC: It’s a subscription model. We have a 2-week free trial that’s for anyone and everyone. There’s no strings attached – you’re not tricked. It doesn’t collect anything, you’re not charged. It really is just 2 weeks for free for the whole world. And then if people decide to continue to keep using it, they can pay monthly or annually for a subscription.
No matter what you choose, it’s less than $10 a month. The pricing is on our website, but typically, monthly is $9.99 a month; annual is $8.99 a month, and then when we partner with schools and businesses and insurance companies, it’s $7.99 a month and down; just to compensate for that scale. The goal with that is to allow students or employees to use it for free, and have their wellness programming dollars pay for it.
GD: Are you partnered with any specific insurance companies?
JC: Yes, we just started working with Insurance Office of America late last year and we have a few other enterprise clients that are not in the insurance space.
GD: When did you launch?
JC: March 1, 2018 was our first text we ever sent, so we’re coming up on our 2-year anniversary.
GD: What’s the response been?
JC: I am kind of blown away by it, to be honest. I’d like to say, “I always knew this was gonna be great,” but really, I think every entrepreneur struggles with, Am I accidentally inventing something that will only help me? Will this really apply to other people’s lives? We have a reviews page on our website that I encourage you to look at. There’s a ton of anonymous reviews and stories of people who the resource has helped.
We’ve had stories of people divorcing abusive partners, and calling 9-1-1 before a suicide attempt, or checking into addiction treatment. It’s staggering. And these texts are really conversational and informal. It’s not the text that’s transforming someone’s life, it’s the way the brain interprets that inbound stimulus. So, we rely on the brain’s ability to interpret.
I just gave a TED Talk and one of the lines in it is, “The same text that inspired one subscriber to divorce an abusive partner inspired another to propose to the love of their life,” so, the texts – instead of saying “your wife,” we might say, “relationship,” or “someone close to you,” so that way people can fill in the blank and apply it to their own life, so our content is so comprehensive. Have you ever been driving on the interstate and you see a billboard and you’re like, wow, that’s just like what’s happening at work right now!
The billboard didn’t do that – the interruption did – when it came in, what it said, and the way your brain interpreted it. That’s exactly what we do – we lean on the brain’s ability to interpret.
GD: In this age of directed advertising and collecting data so that everything is curated to a certain person, how is it that you’re still so successful with this fill in the blank type of model?
JC: In preventative mental health, the more comprehensive it is, the more effective it will be. In treatment, which is the other side, the more localized it is, the more effective it will be. So, the way I explain it to people is, if you are on the preventative side, it’s kind of like a daily full body workout – general calisthenics to keep your body healthy. Treatment is like physical therapy. On the preventative side, working out your whole body is really beneficial. On the treatment side, if you have a broken elbow, you’re not really worried about everything else; you need to fix the elbow.
We will partner with treatment providers but because we’re on the preventative side, we try to address every single part of the human condition – we’ll address body image, finances, relationships and feeling rushed or feeling inadequate – all of these different common habits and stressors and stimuli that we run into on a daily basis.
The free trial is the same sequence for everybody, but once you subscribe, any time we text you, you’re the only person in the world to receive that text on that day at that time, so we have a bank of hundreds of texts that we’re always adding to.
GD: How do you curate these texts? Who comes up with them?
JC: All the texts are written by peer support advocates, so these are people with lived experience with hardship or trauma, illness, loss – and then they’re reviewed by a panel of mental health professionals to make sure that we’re not just texting people whatever we feel like texting them. A lot of tools have a clinical base and then have peer review.
I think that a lot of times those tools can lack empathy and that relatable human touch because they have that clinical base, so we wanted to flip it – so our base is empathy and then just being real and honest and allowing people to share how they really feel, but then layering it with this clinical oversight, so that we make sure we’re integrating positive psychology and proven psychological principles that will actually help people, not just make them feel better today.
GD: Does anyone get the same text twice?
JC: No, ma’am.
GD: You’ve rolled this out just in Florida, or nationally?
JC: Yesterday, we hit our user in our 80th country. Our 80th country was Albania. We’ve been stuck at 79; Spotify is at 79 and it’s kind of the current limit for a lot of stuff because of different systems. We started international last year, and went from one country to 79 in eleven months, just by word of mouth.
We’ve done no traditional advertising. People just took it and ran with it – front page of Reddit. NowThis did a feature on it and it was really gaining traction, and we did no paid advertising, unless you count brochures and flyers.
GD: What’s the future for Cope Notes?
We are really focused on partnerships this year, so partnering with community organizations like NAMI – chapters of NAMI, the Crisis Center, getting more involved with the school districts – actually getting this into the public school system – available for students to use; same with colleges, and then businesses using it for their wellness programs and insurance companies providing it. What we’re looking to do this year is help insulate the user from the cost. We made it as affordable as humanly possible – less than $10/month is awesome – I’m really excited we got the price point that low, but really the next step is these places with wellness programs or grant funding or dollars that they can use towards wellness – we want to say, “Use it on this because this can actually scale,” so the individuals can use it without that barrier of cost.