iCouch is approaching 10 years old and it’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come. Our challenge for you is to think about how far you’d like to go in the next ten years. If you’re interested in the history of iCouch and how those lessons can help you elevate your own business, this post is for you!

An iCouch History Lesson

Ten years ago, my cofounder Jessica and I were English teachers in China. We lived in the town of Suzhou, just outside of Shanghai. We had a good friend of ours who needed a therapist. There were a few English speaking therapists in Shanghai, however, getting to Shanghai for a therapy appointment wasn’t the easiest thing. Since we were relatively poor English teachers, working in a Chinese government school, traveling to the big city wasn’t a viable option.

“Online therapy is not real therapy”

Skype was popular at the time and worked reasonably well in China, which due to China’s strict internet controls, was a blessing. However, actually finding any therapists willing to do online sessions was an extreme challenge. In fact, there was outright hostility to online therapy. If you want to read some of the prevailing nonsense from the time, read Dr. Todd Essig’s article in Psychology Today from March 15, 2010, “Be warned: ‘Online therapy’ is not therapy, not really.” It’s a classic article and, from that, iCouch found a mission. In fact, if you look at the comments of that article, you’ll see a comment from yours truly challenging Dr. Essig’s premise:

That pesky telephone will never replace the telegraph. An email will never replace a hand-written letter. Books could never be sold online. Surgery could never be done remotely. The internet is nothing more than a “fad.” Online therapy can never substitute for actually smelling your therapist in person.

In all seriousness, the internet is nothing more than a delivery method. The content still matters. Regardless of if the therapy is given through http://iCouch.me or in deck chairs on someone’s yacht — it’s the content of the sessions that’s the key issue, and always will be. Saying that iTherapy isn’t “really” therapy is about like saying a telephone call isn’t “really” a conversation. While I respect the experience and perspective of the author, we must all be careful not to judge iTherapy on the basis of the websites currently on the market. Just because the current crop might be of varied quality doesn’t mean that iTherapy is not real therapy.

Brian Dear, September 15, 2010

Despite the institutionalized hostility and insecurity around online therapy (or perhaps because of it,) iCouch was born. And, if you’ve been paying attention, we were right all along. Online therapy is a “thing” and it’s real. It’s changing lives. iCouch was a very big part of that. Wired magazine seems to have thought so. Here’s an article about us in 2012 talking about our online therapy system we had at the time.

I actually wrote the first paragraph of the online counseling page on Wikipedia, over ten years ago. I wrote several of the original paragraphs on that Wikipedia page. I’m particularly proud of the following sentence that persists in that article even ten years later:

Online counseling is also filling the unmet need for clients located in areas traditionally under-served by traditional counselors. Rural residents and expats along with under-served minorities often have an easier time finding a suitable therapist online than in their local communities.

Now, iCouch is far more than online therapy, our product is a complete practice management system for any behavioral professional, both online and in-person.

The “expats” part of that sentence was because at the time, we were focused on creating a way for expats to get therapy remotely. Helping overseas and rural people was a big part of why iCouch was created.

What’s interesting is, that at the time, there was essentially only a few companies doing online therapy with video and we were the first to have our own web-based video system. Everyone else was using third-party tools like Skype (despite Skype not being HIPAA compliant.) It get’s more fun when iCouch buzzwords like “Elevate therapy” or “Therapy Simple” (the title of this blog,) as well as smaller things such as our original red couch logo and even our teal color scheme starts showing up on competitor sites.

There are companies, some still around, some long failed that attempted to copy distinctly “iCouch” characteristics. Other than the occasional legal challenge we might file if the infringement is especially egregious, we generally just laugh about it. What’s funny to us is when new customers who have never heard of us are leaving competitors that built their business around copying what iCouch did. When you’re surfing the web and see words on practice management sites like “Simple” or “Elevate” or see elements such as teal color schemes or even a red couch logo, you’re seeing our influence. We actually had the CEO of a competitor reach out to us last year accusing us of stealing from him — despite the fact we were founded two years before his company!

What lessons from iCouch can help your business?

While I could go on all day or even right a book about the struggles, triumphs, frustrations and euphorias of being a part of iCouch, the reason you’re here is to get inspired for what you can do to improve your business. What are your next ten years going to look like?

  1. Understand that what you are doing now will seem ridiculous in ten years. That’s ok.
  2. You need to pay the bills today, but don’t neglect building equity in your future success.
  3. Have a plan and be sure you are prepared that absolutely nothing ever goes to plan.

What you are doing now will seem ridiculous later

Some of the first designs from iCouch were incredibly terrible. I was looking through some old assets to prepare for this article and I almost couldn’t believe how what I thought was “good” at the time is laughably ridiculous now.

A portion of the original iCouch webpage before we started using a red couch. This is from March 2010.

Here is a screenshot showing how our design has evolved..

The upcoming iCouch home page.

Here’s the thing, apparently I thought that 2010 design was actually good when I made it! Looking back now, it’s a bit embarrassing. However the point is that everything you’re doing now seems like a great idea even if in hindsight it might not be. But, the most important lesson: you have to do what you’re doing now. You can’t grow your business if you’re worried about how you’ll appear to yourself in ten years. Our bad designs? Those led to better designs. Our idea of what is good evolves. You have to let that evolution happen. If you are unwilling to try, you won’t grow at all. Don’t be afraid of of judgement from your future self! What you become is a function of what you have been.

Pay your bills now, but don’t neglect building equity

Considering starting a blog for your therapy practice? A little shy about your website? Are you thinking about therapist branding? Many therapist marketing tasks seem like they don’t work quickly. They take time you don’t have for an uncertain return on investment. However, they are key to building your long term business! In fact, if you’re reading this now, you’ve experienced the power of building equity in your business. Meaning, all of those years of blogging and marketing have resulted in you being here to read this. You probably found us from Google or a referral or something other than simply advertising. Think about not only doing the things that matter now, but doing the things that will matter the most later.

“No plan survives contact with the enemy”

Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Molkte wrote in 1880, “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.” And while your behavioral health business isn’t a military force, the same principles apply.

I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.

Dwight Eisenhower

What all this means for you is that you can plan the next ten years of your business in exquisite detail, but the value isn’t in the plan itself, but in the process of planning. Set goals, have a plan, but be ready for the opportunities that come up that you might not have ever expected.

Do you have any advice from your career that you wish you could tell yourself ten years ago? Share them in the comments below!

Published by Brian Dear

Brian is the cofounder and CEO of iCouch, Inc. He has an extensive background in software engineering, inbound marketing and mental health practice management.

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