Q+A: Yuri Tomikawa, Founder of Zencare
Looking for a quality-vetted therapist? We all know it's hard to find one that both provides excellent care and is a great personality match. Enter: Zencare. This Dumbo-based team provides services to therapists and clients in eight cities. We sat down with founder Yuri Tomikawa to hear about why she created Zencare, the services they offer, and why she loves being based in Dumbo!
Tell us the Zencare origin story! How did you get started?
I started Zencare nearly five years ago, out of my own frustration looking for a therapist in New York City. I had reached out to multiple therapists, only to hear back from half of them, and when I finally spoke with them, I faced even more barriers: their fees–which were not listed on their website–would be too high for me, they weren't accepting new clients, or they weren't a good personal fit. All of these logistical issues ultimately led to me still not having a therapist after weeks of searching. After going through that process myself, I wanted to make finding a therapist as seamless, comforting, and streamlined as possible for others.
The way that we do this is through our website, Zencare.co. There are three key components to our website: a quality-vetted network, photos and video to find a personal fit, and easy online booking for an initial phone consultation.
Our network is quality-vetted, meaning that in addition to license and background checks, we also have conversations with every provider who is interested in joining our network–we learn about their specialties and training, and really make sure they are providing quality care. At the end of the day, we want to build a network of providers who we would recommend to family and friends.
The photos and videos of therapists help prospective clients get a sense of what the provider is like, a sense of their personality and demeanor, before reaching out and having a discussion. We've found that the photos and video help ease the anxiety around reaching out for many-first time therapy seekers as well.
And finally, we make it easy to contact the therapist. You can schedule a free 10-minute phone consultation directly on our website, or send a message to the provider, so that you can skip the typical phone tag that ensues. Our team is also here to help if anyone has trouble connecting with providers, and we keep availability, fee, and insurance details always up-to-date as well.
After going the through process of finding a therapist, I wanted to make it as seamless, comforting, and streamlined as possible for others.
What was the moment when you decided to turn your own experiences looking for a therapist into a business?
I was between jobs so I happened to already be in the mindset of thinking about whether to start my own business or join a new company. Part of why I was looking for a therapist was to try and figure out what I wanted to do with my career–I was having a bit of a quarter-life crisis. Also, until then I hadn't been open to the idea of therapy. It was my first time as an adult looking for a therapist and it was all new to me so when I encountered this problem I was surprised. I started to speak to other people to ask if this was also something they'd experienced and people were saying, "Yes, absolutely". That got me really curious. I began to speak to more friends and also therapists about it and so it wasn't very long after that when I started the company.
What were those early days of Zencare like? How did you transition to running your own start-up?
It was exciting! Everything was new and novel. It was also interesting for me to learn about the therapy industry, to learn about mental health, to learn about what it's like to be a therapist for private practice and to talk to them. At the same time, it was really difficult. I look back on it and don't know how I got through a lot of it. I think in the very early days you're on a high and then you start to hit challenges–the company isn't growing as fast as you want it to or you can't do the things you want to. I think during those times what really keeps you going is the adrenaline of wanting to make it work. I just really believed that a product like this should exist and I was surprised that it didn't so whatever roadblock I faced that thought pushed me through.
What is a typical day like in the Zencare office?
There are 6 full-time team members working out of the Dumbo. Each person's daily schedule is different, depending on functionality. In the morning we'll have a team check-in to share what we're each doing that day, goals, and blockers, and then we break to do our own work. Some people will be on calls with therapists to learn about their practices, other people will be offering customer support to therapists who are in or joining our network, and others will be reaching out to partner organizations like companies, doctors, and students. We also have scheduled team lunches to catch up, and some of us go to Yoga Vida at lunch or after work!
To hear from therapists that their businesses are booming or that their caseload is full thanks to Zencare is really rewarding.
What about Zencare makes you most proud?
For me it's when we hear from people who have used the website and have found a good therapy fit for them. We get that constantly through email but I also love meeting people in person who say "I love my therapist. Your website made it so easy," or "Before I was looking through insurance company websites and it was so confusing but your platform made it easy." That is really the highlight for me. Our website is a two-sided market place– we have the clients who are seeking a therapist and then we have the therapists. So, on the flip side, I also love to hear from therapists about how we've supported their private practice. For example, people who have just started their private practice after working in hospitals or large agencies, and don't know how to market their practice because they aren't taught that in graduate school. So to hear from them that their businesses are booming or that their caseload is full thanks to Zencare is really rewarding. Also, the majority of our therapists are women, so it's exciting to be able to support women-owned small businesses, including many who are returning from maternity leave.
Why did you choose to be based in Dumbo?
We wanted to be in a co-working space. We looked at a few different options and we chose to look at Dumbo because it was a convenient location for a lot of our team members who live further into Brooklyn. It also has a lot of train options nearby so within Brooklyn it was a great meeting place for everyone. We stayed because we love the neighborhood. It has a great vibe and I personally love that we have a yoga studio down the street. It makes a huge difference because before this it would be hard for me to find time to go to yoga classes but now I can just pop out of the office to go across the street. As we've grown the team it's continued to be beneficial.
What's your favorite place in Dumbo?
I have three. One is Bluestone Lane. I go there every morning to get coffee and the Dumbo VIP card helps too so that's been awesome! Two is the waterfront. Now that Time Out Market's opened it's so nice to go get drinks with the team or eat dinner there and have that beautiful view of Manhattan. It's the number one tourist attraction in New York and it's right round the corner from us. I think my third is the Zencare office. I get to be with my team who I love and it's where we do good work.
We stayed because we love the neighborhood. It has a great vibe.
What can we expect from Zencare in the future?
The most immediate is geographic expansion. We're in a few cities and it's going well in those markets so we want to continue by offering it to new cities. We hear all the time, "Why aren't you in my city?", and there's no reason we shouldn't be! We want to offer our services to more people and therapists. We will also continue to improve our product to streamline the therapist search process even further. I really love product development, so I'm excited to continue enhancing our website and making it even easier for both therapy seekers and therapists alike.