Thursday, January 14, 2016
How mPulse Is Using Your Smartphone To Improve Health Care
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Now that just about everyone has a smartphone, how can you use that nearly ubiquitous, mobile access to help improve healthcare? For one—according to Los Angeles startup mPulse Mobile (www.mpulsemobile.com), you can help remind people about their appointments, and make sure they take their prescriptions—along with many other use cases. We caught up with CEO Chris Nicholson to hear about how the venture-backed company is using smartphones to change how we interact with health providers.
What is mPulse?
Chris Nicholson: We are just under one year old. mPulse was formed in April of 2015, as a spinoff of a company called mobileStorm, which has been in mobile marketing and communications for the last fifteen years. We spun off the company to focus just on the healthcare sector, which was mobileStorm's fastest growing sector. We are a mobile experience management company, focused on the mobile engagement space for healthcare. We actually solve several hundred use cases in the healthcare segment, from reducing missed appoints, to improving medication adherence for clients, for health plans, pharmaceuticals firms, and even durable medical device segments of the ecosystem. It's a pretty diverse set of customers, who are all driven of our SaaS-based, contact engine we have created.
How did you get involved with the company?
Chris Nicholson: Personally, I had been an advisor to mobileStorm. Several years ago, I was the COO for Humana's Health and Productivity business. That's where I first learned about the opportunity to bring a company like this to the healthcare space. Healthcare typically moves a bit slower than retail, and as we were at Human a looking for innovative technology, we found that they just didn't have stuff available for healthcare and compliance. So, after a fifteen year career there, I saw a tremendous opportunity here to build out that technology. On the personal side, for me, the funny story is I'm the guy who moved out here in an RV from the Midwest, traveling for two weeks to start this company.
For those of us not familiar with the market, what is it that you are adding with mPulse which isn't out there already?
Chris Nicholson: We are leveraging MMS, SMS, and secure messaging for notificaitons, and and in-app messaging, in a way that allows members to respond and engage. We're leveraging natural language processing, sentiment analysis, and analyzing responses from consumers, and instead of just a machine-based response, we're tailoring and personalizing responses in that messaging.
It sounds like this is quite a bit different from the mobile marketing that mobileStorm has been known for?
Chris Nicholson: It's been a big transition. They were focused on marketing things like night clubs, casinos, and restaurants. We took the best pieces of that marketing platform, and really built upon it the elements for healthcare communications. We've been expanding on that, really, to build out specific solutions that are wrapped around healthcare. Those are things like appointment reminders, notifications about gaps in care. We really saw an opportunity here, because the ROI for health plans and providers are so significant. Text messages cost only a few cents, and if you can reduce a missed appointment, that saves a provider $400 to $500 from that missed visit. There's a huge amount of ROI there.
What's been the biggest challenge, in tackling this market?
Chris Nicholson: It's actually been much less about the technology, but about finding talent here in Los Angeles, and in Southern California. It's a highly competitive market. As fast growing as this market it, it's tough to attract top tier folks into a small, young company. Now that we've got our Series A funding, I think that will be easier, but as an unfunded company, it was a tough place to be in such a large market like this.
Where is the industry now in terms of adoption of this kind of technology?
Chris Nicholson: I would really say we have less than five percent market penetration with these types of capabilities, across health plans, providers, and others. The reason I think it's that low, is that when we are selling this into new clients, we're not bumping out any incumbents. This is really first mover technology. There are companies looking for a mobile first strategy across their enterprise, and trying to find companies who understand compliance and regulations, and there's not anyone there. We're not bumping anybody out, and there's no competition sitting in that space today. However, when you look at the adoption of smartphones by consumers, it's very high, nearly 90 percent. That's forcing health plans to step up their game.
How was the reception looking for funding for a mobile healthcare company?
Chris Nicholson: It's been really great. I was surprised at how quickly we were able to get to market, from a VC perspective. We had great traction and early support from early on. We were able to leverage HLM Venture Partners, a Boston-based company, which led the round, and we got follow on from three of our early investors, OCA Ventures, Merrick Ventures, and Jumpstart Ventures, all of who are Chicago-based. We are also working on a second close, which will include two West Coast Vcs as well. We're really building the best syndicate across the board. Those investors have been excited, because this is a very high margin MRR—monthly recurring revenue, annuity platform. It's pretty easy for them to see the fundability in this business.
So, what is the biggest challenge for you, and what are you tackling next?
Chris Nicholson: I have to come back to staffing. Two things, one is continuing to pull in the right talent. We are adding probably 25 new roles in 2016, so there is a big staffing exercise there, while we keep on maintaining our amazing culture, team, and brand. We're very sensitive to that. Second, there's a challenge of maximizing the value of the data we are collecting, taking that data, analyzing it, bringing in people to analyze and manage that data, to extract that value for our clients. That's critical. That will drive the next products that we roll out.