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Learning How to Transform Mental Health With Arianna Huffington and Thrive Global

By Ian Chiu, Managing Director and Ross Darwin, Principal at Owl Ventures

In education, one of the greatest challenges is changing behavior, as it requires people to not just learn information, but internalize it and be compelled to act on it. Arianna Huffington already has experience doing just that, changing the way we tell stories and consume media with the Huffington Post. With Thrive Global, she’s having a similar impact with an even more ambitious mission: ending the epidemic of stress and burnout.

Founded in 2016, Thrive Global is a behavior change technology company that empowers individuals to develop lasting behavior changes in their lives. Named for Arianna Huffington’s #1 New York Times bestselling book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, the Company’s mission is to end the stress and burnout epidemic and unlock human potential. Thrive Global helps companies support the “whole human” with a platform that helps to develop healthy habits around sleep, movement, stress, nutrition, finances, and relationships. They have worked with over 100 organizations in over 40 countries, and just a year into the platform launch they have impacted millions of lives. With its science-backed approach to behavior change, emphasis on mental health and resilience, and ability to create communities of support, Thrive Global has been ahead of the curve.

We at Owl Ventures are particularly excited by the transformative potential of Thrive Global’s SaaS platform to teach employees and organizations around the world how to build healthy habits. Owl Ventures is thrilled to co-lead Thrive Global’s Series C round to propel Arianna and her team to a new stage of global growth and impact.

Here’s why:

1. Thrive Global is Addressing a Critical Epidemic in Mental Health Through Human Skills

In an increasingly connected and hectic world, employees are struggling to build healthy lifestyles that allow them to lead happy lives and be better employees as well. According to a Deloitte study, 77% of employees have experienced burnout in their current jobs and over 50% have experienced it multiple times. The causes of stress – money, work, the economy, family responsibilities, relationships, and more – are complex and often intermingled. In fact, 83% say that the burnout and stress of work impacts their personal relationships and 77% of people believe that their stress is causing them physical problems.

While this stress and burnout clearly have a negative impact on the employee, they also cost employers in retention, productivity, and healthcare costs. 42% of employees have reported leaving a job because of burnout and it’s estimated that stress costs employers over $300 billion in additional healthcare costs and missed work. Even though many of these problems can be effectively addressed through prevention, much focus has been placed on solving the symptoms, with the healthcare system (especially in the United States) addressing the issues once they present as direct health problems.

On the back of this epidemic of stress and burnout, we at Owl Ventures have seen a very clear trend across enterprise learning towards increased demand for wellness and soft skills training. While much attention has been focused on resources to teach people how to improve their technical skills, companies are increasingly thinking about how to better empower managers and employees in ways that make them feel happy, confident, present, empathetic and resilient in their work.

“The distinction between soft and hard skills is no longer meaningful, and it’s time to retire it — a positive casualty of the pandemic. The 'human skills' — empathy, resilience, collaboration, team building and creativity — are actually essential skills that allow us to maximize whatever job- or task-specific skills and expertise we’ve acquired. And because they are skills, we can practice and get better at them.”

- Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO, Thrive Global

2. Thrive Global Uses Corporate Culture for Good: Behavior Change and Learning in the Enterprise

Across K-12, college, and corporate learning, Owl Ventures is always looking for teams that are able to engage their learners, as the first step for any successful EdTech company is getting the attention of the learner. Thrive Global does just that.

By actively engaging the full enterprise in its initiatives, Thrive Global weaves wellness into the fabric of its clients’ cultures. It highlights client executives as role models and builds their stories directly into the learning journeys of their peers, as a way to demonstrate the commitment of senior leadership to the initiative. In addition, Thrive Global leverages the organizational strength of today’s great companies to help amplify their message by working hand-in-hand with its clients to build the internal and external messaging around their programs.

“Thrive is a core part of how we are thinking about leaving our employees net better off.”

- Julie Sweet, CEO, Accenture

Thrive Global also leverages the fact that many people spend the majority of their time at work to its advantage. It actively works to create in-the-flow learning, bringing learning moments directly into the activities that employees do every day through integrations into employees’ most used software. Thrive Reset, which is based on the neuroscience that we can course-correct from stress in 60-90 seconds, is an excellent example of this. By embedding a link to this 1-minute mindfulness session directly into Zoom links, the company is able to build the habit of mindfulness directly into employees’ work day.

Through these examples, we at Owl see many of the strongest learning pedagogies that our portfolio companies employ to engage learners - storytelling, mentors, and community. We’re especially excited about the way Thrive Global leverages the strengths of enterprises to create that engagement on a global scale - creating organizational change as well as personal change.

3. Thrive Global is Science-Backed and Delivers on Measurable Outcomes

Since our founding, Owl has been focused on investing in companies that deliver outcomes to stakeholders, learners and organizations alike. We believe that prioritizing outcomes is a fundamental requirement for building long-lasting scaled businesses. Thrive Global has delivered meaningful outcomes to the employees and leaders of global organizations like Wal-Mart, Accenture, and Microsoft by building its offerings – from its Thrive Global app to its hundreds of “too small to fail” Microsteps – on a foundation of behavior change science.

Over years of testing, Thrive Global’s team of data scientists — led by a Scientific Advisory Board of A-list global experts in everything from neuroscience and behavior change to psychology and sleep — has cracked the code on behavior change, moving people from awareness to action. Similar to other best-in-class e-learning companies, Thrive Global leverages the power of continuous data collection and predictive analytics. With these data-driven insights,Thrive Global measures employee well-being and provides personalized action plans to help people prevent burnout.

As Arianna writes in Your Time to Thrive, published earlier this year, “We’ve taken this science and built a system that works for real people, helping them kickstart real change and start getting results—not weeks or months from now, but immediately.”

Improving Mental Health Across Six Core Areas

Employees of Thrive Global customers around the world have taken more than 1.5 million Microsteps to improve their mental health across the six core areas in the app: Recharge, Food, Move, Money, Focus and Connect

Equipping Employees to Face Challenges

Thriving Mind, which has been rolled out to many of Thrive Global’s customers, has seen unprecedented engagement, with over 170,000 people participating, and 91% saying they feel better equipped to face challenges in the workplace.

Being Better Prepared to Handle Stress

Thrive’s Leadership Journeys, a tech-enabled immersive program designed to help business leaders cascade well-being as a strategic priority throughout their companies, have impacted over 20,000 leaders from around the world, with 90% reporting that they’re more prepared to handle stress and 80% saying it helped them connect with co-workers in uncertain times.

Learning how to not only survive but thrive by proactively nurturing our collective mental health will be increasingly important for our individual and organizational well-being and performance. Arianna Huffington and Thrive Global are at the forefront of this movement, and we at Owl Ventures couldn’t be more thrilled to be partners together in this journey ahead!

About Ian Chiu: For over 20 years, Ian has been an investor, entrepreneur, and advisor to education and technology companies. He has a deep global network in the education sector and brings a wealth of investing and board experience to the Owl Ventures team.

About Ross Darwin: Ross brings a strong foundation of investment and education experience to the Owl team. Prior to receiving his MBA, Ross spent 3.5 years at TA Associates as an Associate where he was active in deal sourcing, due diligence, deal execution, and portfolio support.

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