Who’s That Gal: Yuri Tomikawa founder of Zencare
Name: Yuri Tomikawa
Occupation: Founder & CEO, Zencare
Hometown: Born in NYC, raised in Tokyo
Currently Reading: Happier by Tal Ben Shahar
Best Strategy for Surviving Winter in Boston: Neck warmers made for skiing!
Tell us a little bit about Zencare? What is it and what was your inspiration in founding the company?
Zencare is a website where people can find their ideal talk therapist. Users can browse clinician videos, check up to date availability and insurances, and book free calls with therapists to find a great fit! Most importantly, our clinicians go through an extensive vetting process upfront to ensure users access quality care.
I started Zencare after I had a hard time finding a therapist myself. I went through online directories, called a dozen therapists, left voice messages, and either didn’t hear back or was told they weren’t accepting new clients. It was a terrible process! Zencare is my hope for others to connect with a therapist in a way that is efficient and empowering.
Why did you decide to launch Zencare in Massachusetts and Rhode Island specifically?
When I first started Zencare, I didn’t know what made a therapist great, and relied on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and colleagues, many of whom were Brown University alums. From there, I was able to tap into a core community of highly respected therapists in Rhode Island, and then reached out to local universities, hospitals, and wellness communities to connect with the best therapists throughout the state. We now have a robust therapist vetting process with the help of our Medical Advisor, and demand for our website, particularly among university students and young professionals, naturally led us to Boston.
It must have been scary to leave your consulting job to launch a startup. How did you gain the courage to take the leap?
Most analysts at McKinsey & Co. leave after two years to work at a different company or go to business school, so I had that timeline in mind from the start. But I think what made me decide to start my own business instead of working another corporate job was that I just loved it so much. I almost never worked on weekends for my consulting job, but when I started dabbling in my own business on the side, I couldn’t keep my mind off of it and would work after hours and on weekends. I knew that if I could get this excited about the work I was doing on the side, I should make it my full-time reality.
What advice would you give to other budding entrepreneurs?
Trust your gut. One of the most exciting things about starting a business is that you have a blank canvas -- this business can look however you want it to! That means you have to make a lot of decisions, and while gathering information and advice is important, ultimately you need to be able to trust what works for you. Realize that you don’t have to follow what everyone else is doing -- you can carve your own path, even within the field you’re operating in.
We’re big fans of therapy, but we also know it can be hard for many people to decide if it’s the right avenue for them. How exactly does Zencare make this process easier?
The therapist introductory videos are likely the most useful Zencare feature for someone who is still deciding if they want to try therapy. So much of what makes people hesitate is not knowing how therapy works or what a session with the therapist is going to be like. But feeling comfortable with your therapist is incredibly important. In fact, a good therapist-client fit is the most important factor in successful therapy! The videos allow users to envision what it would actually be like to work with a therapist: what their office looks like, what their voice sounds like, and the techniques they use to address to specific concerns. That way, users can get a good sense of whether a therapist will be a good fit before they need to work up the courage to reach out, trek to their office, and spend time and money on an in-person therapy session.
Zencare vets therapists pretty seriously. How did you develop this process so that it would most benefit your users?
Quality has been the priority from day one. It was important to me that Zencare didn’t become just a directory of any and all therapists. I wanted to build a network that I could share with friends and family and know they would be in good hands whomever they chose.
Most people looking for therapists don’t know the difference between a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, and counselor, let alone best practices for each type of mental health challenge -- I certainly didn’t! But training and competency are key to good therapy. That’s why we do the legwork upfront.
We conduct a one hour interview with each therapist to understand their specialties and approach to treatment, weigh those against best practices gathered from clinical experts, and receive guidance from our Medical Advisor for final approval. We want users to be able to browse Zencare with confidence, and know that everytime they apply a filter or read a profile, that the information has been verified to ensure they receive truly expert, compassionate care.
What’s next for Zencare and for you personally?
Keep spreading the word about Zencare and growing the network in Boston! I especially want more businesswomen in Boston to know about us. I know that personally, when I was a consultant, the logistical challenge of finding a therapist was the last thing I wanted to deal with, so I’m excited that many of our therapists now offer remote therapy as well as evening and weekend hours. In other news, we’re expanding to Connecticut and New York this year, so I’m pumped about that!
Personally, I want to raise a dog this year! I need to make sure I have the time to do so, but I can’t wait to welcome a dog into the Zencare family.
This post was sponsored by Zencare - but note that JUGS only accepts sponsorships from mission-aligned brands that meet our core values of compassion + fulfillment.