Gabrielle Juliano-Villani was a social worker who loved her job. But she knew she could be laid off at any time, so she started her own practice on the side.

She called it Colorado In-Home Counseling. Little did she know where it would lead her over the next four years, even with a pandemic that was right around the corner.

From social worker to founder to employer

Juliano-Villani started her career as social worker in victims’ advocacy, then moved on to become a caseworker for Child Protective Services.

By 2017, she was working as a care manager for Humana, providing solutions-focused therapy, helping patients navigate the healthcare system, and connecting them to resources. Her goal was preventing hospitalization for patients with multiple chronic conditions.

“I really loved it,” she said. “The first round of layoffs I survived, but I knew my time was coming.”

So Juliano-Villani started her own practice while still working for Humana. She was encouraged that her mentor was also starting a practice. Once she got a full caseload, she quit Humana and became a full-time therapist, specializing in older adults.

Because she accepted Medicare and had a niche, her practice filled up quickly, Juliano-Villani said. She took on her first private client in January 2018, and once her time was fully booked, she hired a second therapist to expand her practice.

“It just kind of steamrolled from there,” she said. “I was definitely building the plane as I was flying it.”

Juliano-Villani said they got most of their business from referrals and had little need to do marketing, because they accepted both Medicare and Medicaid. They focused on older adults and specialized in grief, loss, and chronic health conditions.

In 2020, the practice faced its biggest challenge: COVID-19. No longer could they rely on in-home visits with patients.

“Obviously I was very worried about that,” Juliano Villani said. “In one weekend I completely pivoted. I got us set up on telehealth, I did trainings on how to use telehealth that was HIPAA-compliant.”

After a brief lull, everything took off.

“Mental health exploded,” she said, “because everyone was locked up at home and dealing with their emotions.” She ended up hiring more staff to deal with the influx of patients.

By 2021, she had 10 therapists working for the business, seven of whom were full-time. The team was doing about 200 patient sessions per week.

How this founder sold a telehealth company

Juliano-Villani said she started thinking about selling her business in early 2021 because she was feeling burned out.

But when she got a voicemail from someone interested in acquiring the business, she thought it was spam at first.

Once she figured out the offer was real, the sale to Behavioral Health Solutions moved quickly, closing in December 2021 for an undisclosed price. The deal was part cash, part stock, and included an earn-out for hitting certain milestones.

“M&A has been happening in mental health forever but it’s really started exploding since COVID,” Juliano-Villani said.

The due diligence process was stressful, she said. “I felt very vulnerable. I felt like they were second-guessing everything that I did. And they weren’t, that’s just the process.”

As part of the deal, Juliano-Villani continued working with the practice for a year to help with the transition.

“Everybody thinks you just sell it and you’re done and you ride off into the sunset, and that’s not how it usually works,” she said. She essentially continued in her same role under the new ownership, but was able to give up some of her administrative work, which helped with her burnout, she said.

Now, having fully transitioned out of the company, Juliano-Villani divides her time between coaching and consulting through her business, GJV Consulting.

“Like a true ADHD entrepreneurial spirit, I do a couple different things,” she said. She coaches other entrepreneurs in how to scale and sell their businesses. She also trains businesses in how to take Medicare. And third, she consults and speaks on how to prevent burnout.

“Believe in yourself,” she advised. “You can create your dream life if that’s what you want.”