Mental health app Trusst, founded by Dartmouth professor Bill Hudenko, was recently acquired by K Health. Here, Hudenko talks about choosing acquisition, and how to know it’s the right time.
For years, Bill Hudenko believed he had the key to better mental health care in the palm of his hand. Now, he’s joining hands with other leaders in virtual health care to provide a comprehensive approach to health, after his company, Trusst, was acquired by the virtual primary care platform K Health.
“I think we have a unique opportunity at K Health to fundamentally transform health care,” says Hudenko, who took the position of Global Head of Mental Health at K Health after the August acquisition.
Hudenko has been involved with The Magnuson Center for years, and received funding through Dartmouth Angels. Here, he shares his experience with a merger and his hopes for the future.
Data-driven and convenient mental health support
Hudenko is a licensed psychologist and a researcher with the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College. Through his research, Hudenko found that text-based mental health services could provide improved outcomes for people with mental illness.
Delivering health care via text addresses a myriad of issues around mental health services, including the shortage of providers and the ways that mental illnesses like depression make it difficult for people to get to appointments.
In 2019, Hudenko launched Trusst, an app that provides text-based mental health services.
Expanding beyond mental health
When the pandemic catapulted telehealth into the mainstream, Hudenko realized that he was at a turning point with Trusst. Once he started communicating with the team at K Health, he saw that he only had one tool from the toolbox needed to help reform the American health care system.
"Prior to encountering K Health I had been thinking about mental health a bit too narrowly,” he says. “I was aimed at disrupting the broken mental health system but I had lost sight of the bigger problem: health. Mental health is a vital part of your health, but it isn’t the only part.”
As he talked with Allon Bloch, co-founder and CEO of K Health and Hydrogen Health, he realized that K Health could help amplify the mission of Trusst.
“I realized that we had an incredible opportunity to do something that had never been done before: to create a unified physical/mental health remote solution that provided a seamless health experience for users that focused on holistic care,” Hudenko says. “That is a challenge that I’m very excited to be taking on with this next step in the evolution of our work.”
The right timing
Since the pandemic, more and more companies and entrepreneurs have come into the virtual health care space.
“Last year alone, billions of dollars were invested into the mental health and technology sector. This meant that the field was now well funded with both large incumbents as well as countless new entrants to the space,” Hudenko says. “While I felt very confident about the treatment model and technology that we had built, it felt a bit daunting to outcompete direct competitors with one hundred times the resources.”
That strategic thinking opened Hudenko’s mind to an acquisition, but ultimately it was discussions with Bloch that convinced him that was the right move.
“After getting to know the CEO of K Health, it felt like a really great match,” he says.
What to think about before an acquisition
Hudenko says that preparing for an acquisition is always a difficult process for founders. He found his thoughts swirling with questions, like Have I built enough value for investors?; Should we raise more capital instead?; Am I ready to lose control over the future of the company?; and what will happen to my team post-acquisition?
Hudenko recommends that founders considering an exit think deeply about what they love doing. Stepping back can be the right choice when it furthers the work that you believe in, he says.
“An acquisition can be a great option if you trust the acquiring team and you believe that it can propel your mission forward,” he says.
Now, Hudenko is excited to work with the team at K Health to continue to provide consumers with a better health care experience.
“Not only do I envision a seamless mental and physical health care solution, but also I imagine health care that is both more efficient and capable,” he says. “This new model will be more convenient and affordable for consumers, and will also be augmented by new technologies that allow for unprecedented clinical insights. It is no easy task, but I think we’re up for it.”