7 Cups of Tea provides emotional health and well-being support in real time through its network of trained active listeners. Matching users who want to talk with active listeners, not therapists, the website offers an immediate, anonymous, and confidential form of support.
Recent studies show loneliness is on the rise—and that it’s a serious health problem. Although technology and social media make us more connected than we’ve ever been, they can increase unhappiness and isolation. But one new startup is aiming to offer true emotional support online. Psychologist Glen Moriarty founded 7 Cups of Tea—the name comes from a poem by Chinese poet Lu Tong—to give those struggling with loneliness and other problems a place to be heard.
“You don’t need to be a therapist to listen to people,” Moriarty says. “We help people find someone that won’t judge them when all they need to do is talk.”
The startup offers just that—the chance to connect immediately with a sympathetic listener while remaining anonymous. Users are given the chance to choose listeners with similar experiences, but unlike friends and family, 7 Cups of Tea listeners don’t attempt to solve the problems for you. The message: I understand. I’ve been there too.
A problem that needs solving
The idea for 7 Cups of Tea struck Moriarty when he was stewing over a problem. His wife was there to listen like she had been thousands of times before.
“Talking to her made me feel so much better, and it struck me how much more difficult my life would be without her to talk to,” he says. “Sometimes, it just takes a great listener.” But what about people who don’t have that person? That question is how 7 Cups of Tea was born.
Moriarty first stepped into the entrepreneurial ring when he founded a top-rated learning management company. It taught him the ins and outs of online, interactive collaboration and while the company is successful, Moriarty felt something was missing.
“I love education, I love SaaS, but it’s not a world changer thing,” he says. “It’s not something you want to be known for when you die. … It’s important to think about what is the most important thing you should be doing.” For Moriarty, that “thing” is bringing emotional support to the world via great listeners.
With 7 Cups of Tea, Moriarty has drawn upon his experience as a therapist and seasoned web entrepreneur to create a product that is an extension of offline human behavior—bringing the therapeutic value of active listening to online users that don’t have access to it. Feedback from early users proved that he wasn’t the only one that saw the importance of listening. One user wrote him soon after using the product: “I just tried this out and seconds later I’m chatting with a kind and compassionate person who’s listening to me? It feels like a veil lifted.”
On average, 7Cups users report feeling 40% better after being listened to—and there has yet to be a single negative experience reported, according to Moriarty. “Even though having problems is very common, you feel very isolated when you’re going through them,” Moriarty says.
How it works
7 Cups of Tea recruits listeners—pulling from colleges and universities and organizations and the National Alliance on Mental Illness—who complete an online course that equips them with the active listening skills. Each listener is background checked and many are even licensed professional counselors and therapists.
Users can browse available listeners’ bios and star ratings and search by fields of expertise from parenting to anxiety. Pick Ollie, a Lutheran pastor, or Nicole, a third-year psychology major, and choose to either chat or call. Then, users can talk about anything that’s on their mind—for truly serious problems, listeners can refer users to therapists. Most listeners are available for free or on a “you choose” basis, for those with a per-minute fee, 7 Cups of Tea takes 40% of the transaction.
Currently building the site’s listener community after a June launch, Moriarty is considering selling bundled minutes to employee assistance programs and elderly assisted living facilities as the site grows. One testimonial? Many of 7 Cups of Tea’s listeners first came to the site as users calling for support.
“They were listened to and it was really meaningful and helpful—and they wanted to give back,” Moriarty says.
What's new about what you're making? How is it different?
If you are struggling and/or lonely you really only have 2 options: family/friends or therapy. 7 Cups of Tea is the place that exists between those two options. It is for people who do not have close family/friends and do not want/need professional counseling. It uses listeners (normal people who take an active listening course, pass a background check and screening process); it does not use licensed mental health professionals.
Many people do not have close family or friends that they can turn to when struggling. For the fortunate people that do, they are often afraid to open up to them out of fear of being judged or a sense that their family and friends are too distracted or not good listeners. That leaves professional therapy or counseling.
This option can be helpful, but it has several limitations. It can be inconvenient due to limitations on insurance, geographic location, and availability. It is costly ranging from $70-$150/hour. Finally, and most importantly, it is not anonymous.
There are many people that are afraid of being seen in a waiting room or having their mental health record follow them. They also have concerns about stigma and the fear that "something is wrong with me if I go to therapy." We answers the problems that therapy is unable to address.
Our service is very convenient. Users can call whenever they like. Their kids can be screaming in the background or they can be on their way home from work. They can even text their listener. None of the standard rules of therapy apply.
Why did you pick this idea to work on?
I'm a licensed clinical psychologist and I also have a good bit of technology/startup experience. 7 Cups of Tea integrates these 2 areas.
How big is the market?
I know people need what I'm making because of the sheer size of the mental health industry. ~70 million Americans have a mental illness; and two new cases of mental illness occur in the US every second. That's 60 million new cases each year (World Health Organization). The US Mental Health Market is $45 Billion, or 2.5% GDP (World Health Organization)
Millions seek mental health services weekly and even more remain undiagnosed and searching for listeners. .~60 million or 20% of US population are lonely. 12% have no one to talk to. This number is not only growing, but has tripled since 1984.
Who are your competitors? How are you different?
Our competitors include mental health counselors, online mental health counselors, and online support groups. Mental health counselors are inconvenient, costly and not anonymous. Sessions run from $80-$200/hour. Online counselors are convenient and a bit more confidential, but very cost prohibitive. They average $120/hour. Finally, online support groups are helpful, but they do not provide one to one contact or active listening.
On 7 Cups, users can get started for free and have the one on one contact needed for good listening.
What do you understand about your business that others just don't get?
The most efficacious part of therapy is the therapeutic alliance. This basically means that the therapist cares for you and you feel like the therapist is on your team. This is mostly accomplished through an empirically proven process called active listening.
Active listening consists of paying close attention to what the client is saying. People can easily be trained in this process by learning techniques called microskills.
I understand that listening is not counseling. Counseling is defined as behavior change, but the industry operates as if only professional licensed counselors can listen to you. This is simply not true. This is the "secret" I know that other people do not seem to understand.
How will you make money?
We have a free component and a premium component. Ultimately, the revenue model is scalable and supports multiple revenue streams, including: 1. Monthly / annual “connect now” subscription; 2. Revenue from each call, price is determined by the listener (70% commission for listener; 30% commission for 7 Cups); 3. Augment existing Mental health clinics, hospitals and private practices with after hours care and assistance; 4. Website monetization from advertising; 5. Affiliate programs with doctor's offices, nonprofits and other organizations. They refer clients to 7 cups and we split revenue with them.
How do you handle quality control of listeners?
Each listener takes an advanced course in active listening, passes a background check, and is screened by a member of our team.
What's your biggest risk? What keeps you up at night?
The biggest risk is us getting the listener community right. Listeners are the key to making this a wonderful service.
How many active listeners are on the platform today?
We have 200 active listeners approved today and we have another several hundred in process.
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