Some startup companies are born out of complete necessity. Take, for instance, the situation facing Derek Streat who learned in 2009 that his two-year-old daughter was facing a life-threatening autoimmune disease.
Like most parents, Streat set out to find everything he could about the medical condition. And that search was the inspiration behind Medify, a Seattle consumer health startup that’s launching today and announcing that it has raised a total of $1.8 million from Voyager Capital and others.
Simply put, the 12-person startup wants to make it easier to find health-related information on the Web. Streat, who previously co-founded AdReady and worked at Classmates.com, discussed what makes Medify different from a full slate of health information companies in this edition of Startup Spotlight.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Medify is the best place online for people who are managing important health situations to discover what really works for people like them, and then to use their new-found insight to get help from those they trust most.”
Inspiration hit us when: “Unfortunately, it was more like reality hit us when my daughter was diagnosed with a serious medical condition, and my family was thrust into a terrifying world that we knew nothing about. Despite having world-class doctors, finding all the answers we wanted, especially those backed by data from real patients like my daughter, was difficult. Making sense of it was nearly impossible. And knowing what to do with it, even more daunting.
As we chatted with other families searching for answers to their health questions we discovered that the problem was more widespread than one might expect. People do 10 million searches for health information every day, yet their options are pretty universally-sub-par. It’s a mixture of “in the weeds” Google search results, high-level online health sites, and Geocities-style discussion forums.
Relevance and unbiased, trusted sources of information are persistent problems, as is good design. It’s almost as if online health search is stuck in 1999 while every other space – from travel to shopping – has been updated to take advantage of new technologies and evolving online behaviors. It became pretty clear we could do better.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: VC and select angels that can add value. Medify co-founders have founded or been members of the initial teams at seven start-ups, all of which have been venture-funded, and four of which have successfully exited.
We attribute part of that success to the contacts, capital, and advice that experienced backers can provide. That’s not to say we think every VC is additive, but we do realize start-ups have a really high beta, and VCs, we think, help reduce that beta more often than not. We particularly like the internal incubation model where we spend three to six months inside of a firm to work closely with the partners on the initial concept. Half of our start-ups began this way.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our proprietary technology allows us to mine literally billions of facts about hundreds of millions of real patient experiences from disparate data sources that are 100 percent backed by medical professionals. We then make them discoverable, trackable, and shareable by consumers. It’s the biggest and best database of its kind, and it helps people answer their most important questions – what are my best treatment options, which experts really know their stuff? All within a highly engaging, graphical format.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “It’s a bit of a cliché’ but we really have assembled an all-star team. Most of our technologists were the technology leaders at Farecast (sold to Microsoft) where they built the engine that mined through complex data sets to accurately predict the future prices of airline tickets. They are the “chefs” to our secret sauce.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Not bringing on an experienced, full-time designer on day one. It seems really tactical I know; that was our rationale in contracting with freelancers initially. But we now know it’s much more strategic, and we’ve surrounded ourselves with top-notch designers.
The speeds with which new devices (mobile, tablets, etc.) and online technologies and services are evolving are creating opportunities to dislodge leaders in large part through better – even revolutionary – user experiences. Ten years ago you could more easily force users to muddle through your UI because you might be the only game in town. Today companies must be much more agile; a simple but powerful experience can be created overnight by a UX pro working on an iPad app.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Gates. All three are revolutionaries, but if I have to rank their respective revolutions I’d have to say democratization of computing trumps everything, and we have Gates to thank for that. I think it’s impressive that Gates is now devoting his efforts to similarly, perhaps greater, revolutions in global health, education, and poverty eradication. He’s an inspiration.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “It’s already begun (although far from ended). Because our solution is technology-driven, we already have hundreds of millions of real patient experiences, 100 percent vetted by professionals, available on our site. And it’s growing rapidly…there were over six million new patient experiences added within the last month.”
Rivals should fear us because: “We’re incredibly mission-driven, and we’re not beholden to the status quo. To the contrary, we believe online health consumers deserve solutions and experiences that are quite different from their current choices. Everyone at Medify – from our team to our backers to our advisors – believes we have the opportunity to start a revolution, not to increment. This gives us the freedom to be bold and take chances that may seem too scary to the establishment.”
We are truly unique because: “We fill a market need for a ‘middle’ layer of health information that is not too high level like existing health websites, but also is not highly technical like raw medical journals.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Getting focused on online health search. In the conceptualization phase it’s easy to fill up the whiteboard. Release deadlines have a way of forcing tough choices.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Take the time to really think about what you hope to get out of a particular start-up experience. It will help you make a number of important choices (funding strategy, revenue model, growth strategy, etc.). Force yourself to choose one, or stack rank 1 – n. Goals of getting a big payday vs. disrupting an industry vs. improving the lives and experiences of a group of people may all lead you to different choices. Neither goal is more right than the others, and some goals can (and) should lead you to the other ones. But you’ll find the experience much more fulfilling if you enter it with an honest assessment of what you want.