As the pandemic has put health first on the agenda, Michelle Larivee, co-founder of WTHN, is hoping to bring alternative health solutions to the forefront with a national chain of acupuncture clinics that offer a variety of holistic health services.
Larivee, who suffered from a ski accident which led her down a rabbit hole of treatments for her injured spine, discovered Chinese medicine and its pain-relieving powers. Now, she and co-founder Dr. Shari Auth, who has an extensive background in Eastern medicine, have raised over $4 million from investors that have also built national food, fitness, and lifestyle brands to bring WTHN to more Americans. These investors include the founders of SoulCycle, Sweetgreens, and byChloe, as well as Goop’s Gwyneth Paltrow. Getting there wasn’t a straight road to success, though, she says.
“I probably did over a 100 meetings where I got a lot of ‘no’s’ but I finally came across investors who understood what I was trying to build.”
While acupuncture is not new, the way that Larivee and Auth are packaging it is, she says. “I want to make it easy and affordable for people to book appointments, buy herbal remedies, and practice at home.”
Though they’re currently based in New York City, the duo are working on opening more locations with the ultimate goal being a national chain of WTHN centers. The pandemic shut down their New York City location for three months last year. During that time, Larivee and her team focused on building out their online offerings — acupressure mats, ear seed kits, and more organic herbal supplements. These play into the understanding that much of Chinese medicine is about preventive health and regular maintenance.
“It’s really a lifestyle,” says Larivee. “Once you treat the body for an injury or a disease, you should be going in twice a month or at least once a month to help keep everything in check and maintain good health.”
This is the missing ingredient in modern-day healthcare, Larivee adds, who herself had worked in healthcare for 15 years prior to starting WTHN. “Your body needs that continuous care, and this is one way to do it that’s free of side effects. Plus, if you have a cold coming on, or allergies, or simply daily ailments, it really works to nip those in the bud — without having to resort to medications.”
A growing body of research does indicate that acupuncture is effective for common health issues, such as lower back pain, which affects millions of Americans. In one study, patients who received acupuncture over 10 weeks reported a more notable improvement in their lower backs than those who didn’t, and resorted to more conventional treatment. Thus, acupuncture is now accepted by some — albeit a small percentage — of health insurance policies. At WTHN, patients can use HSA/FSA to help pay for treatments. But the founders are also price conscious: “We kept it at $75, half of what the average treatment costs in New York City, because I know from first-hand experience that all these sessions can begin to add up,” Larivee notes.
Plus, with the ability to book appointments digitally, and have a more seamless experience, she says, they’re modernizing the acupuncture experience for today’s consumer. “You don’t have to go to multiple places, or worry about limited time slots. This is really designed to make it easy for you to incorporate into your life.”
Given the past year, riddled with stress and anxiety for most Americans, Larivee and Auth see WTHN as a place for daily tools to de-stress. For those not in New York City, they’re selling simple tools like an acupressure mat that can be used at home. While it may not wipe away an injury, it can relieve pain, and help the healing process. These are not new products to the market. But Larivee hopes that by building out a brand centered around holistic health, she can reach consumers who may have never considered Chinese medicine or alternative health techniques. “So many of our customers that come to our New York location are trying acupuncture for the first time,” she notes.
5,000 to be precise are first-timers to the treatment. And given Larivee’s own personal journey into motherhood, she’s seen how acupuncture can help with fertility challenges as well. “I have two kids to prove that it works,” she jokes. “But in seriously, we’ve had over 50 women who have successfully gotten pregnant with the help of regular acupuncture sessions.”
So could this new business model help popularize an ancient technique and give more Americans access to holistic health? Larivee hopes to do just that, as she expands their footprint beyond New York.
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