A Very Special Conversation With Workit Health Co-Founders, Lisa McLaughlin & Robin McIntosh
Q: So, for those in our audience not family with Workit Health, can you tell us how it all started?
Robin: My Co-Founder Lisa and I met over a decade ago in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. We became close friends and worked together in startup settings.
Although we were lucky enough to find long-term recovery, we lost many friends and loved ones along the way to rehab waitlists and the strict ideologies conveyed in traditional treatment settings.
In 2014, we decided enough was enough. Addiction care hadn’t changed much since the 1930’s, and people with substance use disorder were the casualties of this neglect. We wanted to build something that was simple to use but also effective. We quit our jobs and started Workit.
Q: What types of services do you offer that can benefit those in need?
Lisa: Workit Health offers clinically-proven treatment for substance use disorder in virtual form. Medication helps people get through opioid and alcohol detox and manages cravings in the long-term but can be difficult to find. Workit changes that — via the Workit mobile app, you can video chat with licensed clinicians and counselors from the privacy of your own couch.
Our clinicians also treat the stuff that comes along with addiction — anything from anxiety and depression, to insomnia, to hepatitis C. Our counselors lead virtual recovery groups so members can connect with other people on the same journey. We have an interactive curriculum of courses that help people understand themselves, the science behind addiction, and the research around what works in recovery.
We saw technology as a way to bring the gold standard of care to anyone who needs it, without the shame and judgement so many people experience in traditional treatment.
Q: What are the main challenges that a person struggling with addiction faces?
Robin: As a society, we have a lot of work to do around how we think about addiction and substance use. When people realize they’re not able to stop drinking or using drugs despite negative consequences, they might initially wonder why they lack willpower. We don’t talk about addiction as a chronic brain disease, similar to hypertension or diabetes, enough.
In addition, we’re overly reliant on solutions for severe substance use disorder. Inpatient treatment is expensive, outdated, and impractical for people with families or demanding jobs — and yet it’s still the first thing many people think of when considering getting help for drugs or alcohol.
Workit is different — we understand that drug and alcohol use occur on a spectrum, and we’re able to intervene sooner and reach more people. Treatment is traditionally one-size-fits-all, and at Workit we’re making it one-size-fits-one, and our outcomes illustrate how effective this is.
Q: Did you see a major increase in business during Covid?
Lisa: We saw a major uptick of demand — we were already growing incredibly fast, but COVID really accelerated the adoption of telehealth. We were fortunate to already have a virtual infrastructure in place, and to understand the power of telemedicine care. Receiving care from home reduces the anxiety so many people have in a clinical setting. It expands the reach of experts to rural areas and increases retention long-term.
COVID really functioned as a perfect storm to highlight the crisis of substance use disorder that the nation was already facing. Isolation, stress, and financial insecurity are all major triggers for people who struggle with substance use. In the midst of time people in recovery needed the most support, we additionally saw a shutdown of traditional programs. We’re seeing the results of this in the overdose rates for 2020 — it was a record breaking year for deaths due to drugs or alcohol.
The pandemic really highlighted the problem that Workit is trying to fix. Everyone who wants help deserves it, and it should be readily available at the moment you’re ready.
Q: Can you tell our audience one of your most memorable moments in your career?
Lisa: In 2019, Robin and I were named Schwab Social Entrepreneurs of the year, along with other entrepreneurs from across the world solving social or environmental problems. As a B-corporation, we’ve always been passionate about using the power of business to change people’s lives for the better. It was incredibly powerful to see the work we’ve been doing recognized at the international level.
Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
Robin: Don’t go it alone — surround yourself with women who build you up. Lisa and I are each other's rocks. Sharing the Co-CEO title means we can support each other in the male-dominated tech industry and divide and conquer difficult challenges. Over 85% of Workit’s leadership team is female, and we support each other and make leading with compassion a priority. This lack of ego and politicking makes it possible to focus on the work and be incredibly impactful. Don’t buy into the stereotypes that say you can’t build other women up, or that other women are the competition.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
Lisa: A growth mindset will take you far. A growth mindset means you look at yourself and your skills as ever evolving and malleable. Believing in your ability to grow and evolve will reduce your fear of failure, as every experience becomes a learning experience. At Workit, we challenge our own assumptions and push each other out of our comfort zones. We bring a spirit of inquiry to issues rather than a spirit of crisis.
Q: After high school, where did you feel your career path would take you?
Robin: Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, and mantras like “be your own boss” and “always bet on yourself” were common refrains when I was growing up. I knew from an early age that I wanted the ability to be creative, take risks, and improve the world.
Designer by trade before I co-founded Workit. Design allows me to really roll up my sleeves and get messy, examining systems that don’t work and understanding how they could be improved. Design thinking informs and drives our company today.
Something About Robin & Lisa
1. What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
Robin: Spend time with my husband, Beau, and our daughter.
2. What was the last book you really got into?
Robin: How to Be Both, by Ali Smith
3. Would you rather cook or order in?
Robin: I enjoy cooking, so I’d rather cook — as long as I can find the time.
4. What’s your favorite quote or saying?
Lisa: “Nothing about us without us,” a mantra often heard in the harm reduction movement that echoes the patient-led mission we have at Workit Health.
5. What’s your signature drink?
Lisa: We’re big on the wide world of non-alcoholic drinks. Robin had a mocktail bar at her wedding, and lately I’ve been drinking Poppi prebiotic soda.