Rachel McCrickard - Founder Story
If you’ve been around any amount of entrepreneurs (or maybe you are one) then you’ve heard someone say “I was born to be an entrepreneur”. There’s actually a lot of discussion around whether entrepreneurs are born or made. We’re not going to try and answer that today, but we do agree that people enter entrepreneurship in different ways and don’t always feel the inherent sense of entrepreneurship at a young age.
This is Rachel McCrickard’s story. She’s the founder of Motivo, the nation’s first HIPAA-compliant video platform connecting therapists to clinical supervisors. In her own words:
“ There are two different entry ways into entrepreneurship. The first, you want to be an entrepreneur and are trying to think of a problem you can solve. I came in the other way. I had a solution to a problem based on my own domain expertise. I just didn’t know that it was a company.”
Whether Rachel was born an entrepreneur, she’s made herself into one, or both, it’s clear that she is building a solution to a real problem and as a result, a badass tech company.
“You’d Make a Good Preacher’s Wife”
Rachel grew up the middle of three children in the corner of NorthWest Georgia, right under Chattanooga, TN. Her father was an elementary school principal and her mom was the church secretary, a writer, and a stay-at-home mom.
Rachel never felt the entrepreneurial bug as a kid. She was less drawn to building a business and felt more drawn to leadership.
“Early on I was given some leadership recognition that I didn’t know would turn into more entrepreneurial qualities” Rachel says.
She was put in leadership positions in highschool and college, particularly in things that were faith oriented. Faith and the church were a big part of Rachel's upbringing and informed a lot of her younger years.
“When I was little, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. Most people told me I’d make a good preacher's wife. I was really into female faith leaders.”
Rachel thought she’d be a women’s ministry leader and majored in theology for a portion of her college education but she was not without exposure to entrepreneurship. Her brother co-founded Chattanooga Whiskey and led the campaign to successfully change the law in Tennessee to distill whiskey in any county. “The Whiskey Bill” finally passed in May of 2013.
Rachel saw her brother’s entrepreneurial journey and had a front row seat to the very high highs and the very low lows. But watching this experience didn’t immediately turn Rachel on to entrepreneurship. She continued to pursue theology and faith-based leadership. She was the only female theology major in her program and was the chaplain for her dormitory.
“Rising to leadership was empowering for me.” Rachel remembers.
What she didn’t realize at the time was that the ample opportunity to address a room of people, speak publicly, and convey a compelling vision would be invaluable later in her journey.
From Preaching to Counseling
While in school, Rachel met her husband. They graduated and moved to Los Angeles in 2004 so he could pursue a career in film at DreamWorks. While Rachel describes the move to LA as incredible, she also admits that she was very young. At 22, she didn’t have the life experience she felt she needed to get into women’s ministry. She decided to get her Masters Degree in counseling, while working as a live-in nanny. However, it was during her counseling program she began to go through what she calls her own “evolutionary faith journey”.
Rachel says that this season of her life rocked her conservative southern mentality of christianity vs. everybody else. It opened her eyes.
“This led me to my own path of being a therapist. Deciding what I believed and what life I wanted to have.”
Rachel moved into a really fruitful career path in mental health. After grad school she pursued mental health as a counselor and then rose to Director.
Rachel worked on Skid Row early on as a therapist working with homeless adults. She worked as the program manager for several facilities and found she was good at bringing people together with creative ideas like her knitting group.
She led a group of about 100 chronically homeless adults in knitting afghan blankets. During the knitting they would focus on self care and mental health. This group was good for their recovery.
“I always had a really good balance between therapy skills and foundational leadership insight and the ability to rally people around a shared idea” Rachel says. “Routinely through my career I’ve had good ideas… Oftentimes they coincide with mental health treatment.”
“If I don’t try this I’ll always wonder if it would have worked.”
This same creativity followed her back to the South. In 2011, Rachel and her husband moved back to Chattanooga to be closer to family. Rachel began working as a therapist for a mental health organization, and quickly grew to the role of Vice President of Development.
It was during this time that Rachel began spending hours each week driving to and from her clinical supervision. You see, all pre-licensed therapists have mandatory supervision hours they need to complete for licensure. Often, therapists only have access to a very limited pool of supervisors. Rachel was driving two hours each way to her supervisor to complete her hours. This experience wasn’t unique to Rachel either. So many new therapists spend countless time and money in order to complete this necessary step.
It was on one of her drives that Rachel came up with the idea to change this. She knew it was a good idea but only intended to do it on the side for a bit. So LMFT Connect (the first iteration of Motivo) was founded in March 2017.
Shortly after the idea was sparked, Rachel joined a pre-accelerator program on Monday nights in Chattanooga called Co.Lab while still holding her full-time job. The program created a business canvas for everything she needed to know to start a company. After Co.Lab, she joined a three month accelerator program on Tuesdays and Thursdays and left her job in Oct. 2017 to focus on Motivo full time.
“That’s when I really thought..Ok. This is something and I think that I could try to go for this..” Rachel says. “I can remember vividly driving down the street and thinking If I don’t try this I’ll always wonder if it would have worked.”
So what IS Motivo?
Motivo is the largest platform that connects pre-licenced therapists with clinical supervisors through secure video conference. Therapists can complete their supervision hours with quality, affordable supervisors in their area — completely online.
Many pre-licensed therapists have trouble finding a clinical supervisor in their area let alone one within their budget. Motivo lets them save the drive and meet with their supervisor through its HIPAA-compliant platform. Also, fun fact, Motivo means foundation in portugese.
Through her time in her pre-accelerator and accelerator program Rachel made some important relationships, including Michael Cohn, the then Managing Director for Techstars Atlanta. Michael was holding advisor office hours at Co.Lab and Rachel signed up for a meeting. She had recently obtained a convertible note from an advisor and decided not to even respond to the email because she didn’t know what it was. She admits she didn’t really know anything about entrepreneurship or Techstars so she met with Michael to ask some questions.
Michael believed she had something and encouraged her to apply for Techstars Atlanta. But, Rachel remembers feeling inadequate.
“I feel like I have to show up perfectly before I go after something. I believed that because I didn't have a team, was a solo founder, had an MVP that was cobbled together between Shopify and Zoom, and was only making $3,000 in monthly recurring revenue I wasn’t qualified for the program.”
But, Rachel admits that she completely underestimated herself. She was accepted into Techstars.
Even the acceptance didn’t change the fact that Rachel felt embarrassed by her product. Not being a technical founder, she’d duct taped together some software solutions to meet her needs. On her first day of Techstars she was scheduled to meet with an engineer.
“I remember having to share Motivo and was so embarrassed. I found out later that the developers were talking about me. They thought it was so cool that I created a product that was generating revenue without any developers. I didn’t realize that was unique. I look back now and see how Motivo checks so many boxes of what a successful startup looks like.”
Techstars was an incredibly formative experience for Rachel and taught her how to truly be an entrepreneur. She learned anything from how to size out her market, to how to pitch, to simply how to introduce herself. She also formed lifelong friendships with other founders and advisors who helped her question everything about her business (in a good way) and were her biggest cheerleaders.
One relationship that Motivo formed during Techstars that’s been very impactful is Cox Enterprises. While Motivo is a small startup in the Cox portfolio, they led Rachel’s first fundraising round in 2019 where she raised $2.2M. Cox also holds a board seat and regularly uses their network to uplift Motivo.
Rachel graduated from the program in 2018 and today Motivo has 1,000 supervisors and about 500 therapists using the platform. 75% of the people working towards their licensure on the platform live in what’s known as mental health shortage areas. This means there are not enough mental health professionals per capita. So, Motivo is quite literally increasing the number of mental health therapists in the areas of our country that need them the most.
New Level. New Devil.
“In one year of being a startup CEO you grow at the same level as 5-7 years of regular professional development” Rachel says. “The problems are so complex and challenging… you get thrown in the deep end. Entrepreneurship is really hard.”
Much of Rachel’s time last year was spent on fundraising. Motivo also officially launched their version 1 product in March of 2019 and has been growing their team.
As Rachel says..New level. New devil.
“I’m glad I went down this path. There are really hard moments and really great moments. Things shift really remarkably. There are moments when I think Motivo is going to be huge. On the same day, I’ll think there is no way this is going to work. I cannot do this. I am in over my head.”
“There are a lot of different things that drive founders. Some to get rich. Some to solve the problem. Some for impact. I’m doing it to solve the problem but also because I really love learning and growing and trying to do something that’s hard. I love that.”
When asked what advice Rachel would give to other founders, she had three things to pass on.
- Mentors and advisors are absolutely key.
“Find people you can call when things get hard.”
- You have to take responsibility for your own health and wellbeing to survive.
“Entrepreneurship is a pressure cooker. You have to create ways to care for yourself. For me it’s running and yoga. I couldn’t survive without moving my body.”
- Be careful thinking “this person may know more than me”.
“Advice is very subjective. Everybody wants to tell you what they think about your company. Many of them will be right and many of them won’t be. I thought that when someone said something about Motivo it was truth because they’re smarter than me or may know more. Somebody’s opinion is just their opinion. The hard work is that YOU have to figure out if it’s the right move. I think, for me, the only way out of that was to go through it. You have to fail to know it was the wrong way to go. It’s hard to know that head of time.
This is a muscle that gets flexed over time. I know more about what’s better for Motivo now than I did six months ago or a year ago. It gets easier to pick out the bad advice.”
The Future Looks Bright
So how does the future look for Motivo? Bright. Very very bright.
They recently hired a new COO, Sarah Louragh, who comes from Airbnb. Having Sarah on board will allow Rachel to exercise more of her creative and visionary muscles and give her a partner executive to help make difficult decisions.
Motivo is also getting set up to scale and raise a Series A next year.
“We have a strong base of users, revenue growth month-over-month, and the effects of COVID have positively impacted the need for telesupervision. We’ve seen licensure regulations quickly change and an inflection point in therapists interest in digital tools.”
When thinking back, Rachel believes that her therapy background has helped her a lot. If she hadn't been a therapist first, she doesn’t believe she’d be a good entrepreneur.
“My job as a counselor was to help my clients create their own path” she says.
This is a lesson we think we’ll all take away from her story. Just like Rachel, we all need to create our own paths. We may not all go from pursuing a life in ministry to starting a tech company, but this is what makes her journey uniquely hers.
Was Rachel born to be an entrepreneur or did she make herself into one? We may never know and although we could go back and forth indefinitely on this topic, one thing we know for sure? Rachel seems to be natural.