I invite Jorge Armanet, CEO & Co-Founder of HealthUnlocked onto YHP as we talk healthcare, starting businesses, early days, investment, advices and goals. HealthUnlocked is a social network for health that provides social and self-management technology for patients of all shapes and sizes.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I generally introduce myself in meetings as a media and technology entrepreneur. But the story is a bit less sharply defined. From the academic side, I did an MPhil in Innovation from Cambridge University following an MA in Digital Media from Goldsmiths, and Engineering, Economics and Ecology Degrees from UC, Chile. From the entrepreneurial side, past businesses include Plataforma Publico, an open source cultural media lab in Chile, Hecho en Chile, a Chilean ‘Big Issue’ publication network for low-income students; and DO TANK, a lab building functional software prototypes to test new web business models.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I think it all comes from very early in my life, from the need to do the things that I wanted to do in order to grow into the person that I wanted to become. I started my first company when I was 23 and I haven’t stopped since. Initially it was more about needing an entity to execute ideas from rather than creating a company for the sake of doing business. I mostly did things related to media and arts, but then the execution of ideas in itself became secondary compared with the challenge of keeping those ideas relevant through time. That, in a way, is the nature of an entrepreneur, someone whose aim is to build structures for ideas to be executed and co-evolve with society.
How did the idea for HealthUnlocked come about?
It came about from the fusion of experiences and ideas of my co-founder Matt Jameson Evans and myself. He was a doctor in the NHS and I was experimenting with social networking models. We were both very interested in tackling social problems from the private sphere and health was one in which web technologies could do a lot. When we started we were full of ideas and some good experience, but we were very naive in our understanding of the size of the challenge we faced. That, in a way, was very useful because I don’t know if you can take on these types of challenges if you really understand the effort that it takes. We have always thought about doing big things, about positively disrupting and improving access to information about health.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Health is one of the most complex spaces where you can get your hands on. It combines a myriad of stakeholders and everyone has its own view. Although they are the end-users of any health system, patients voices have historically been very fragmented and so not considered in the discussion. In order to unlock the voice of the patient we have developed a technology platform for Patient Organisations which have traditionally been in close contact with patients providing them with valuable support. The hardest part in the beginning was convincing those organisations that they could trust us and to explain how new technologies could not only improve operations for these charity organizations but also for health as a whole.
What is HealthUnlocked? And what are you trying to solve with it?
HealthUnlocked is a social network for health that provides social and self-management technology for patients of all shapes and sizes. We are trying to solve the need for relevant, personalised health information. That is the challenge of having all health’s stakeholders receiving value from a network where the patients are at the centre of every communication process.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
We have been backed by investors that support and share our vision and that are very committed with our long term strategy. Also, although our focus is in the growth of our members-base and users engagement, we have managed to generate revenues that have been not only helpful in terms of our cash flows but also to test in the real world how much our products can add value to our long term potential customers.
What advices can you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funding for their start-ups?
Fundraising is not only about getting cash at a good valuation, it is also about finding people with similar passions and values that are going to be generous and committed enough to share their experiences with you. The type of investors you have is very important. Especially if you have a very long term and ambitious plan. So I would recommend anyone starting a business to spend a great deal of time understanding what they are trying to do in order to convince investors that are really looking for the same things.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
It was exciting in the beginning but I think the real excitement comes when you see that things are working in a way that make sense to you. In that sense, today is by far the most exciting time for our business.
How did you initially get traction?
It was all about understanding what we were doing and looking for network effects. We have been always focused on our users and how to add value for them. We never tried to get there through short cuts. We were always very aware of making things in a very real way and not fooling ourselves. I think that is particularly important now when quickly changing opportunities could easily distract us.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
I think the most important has been to understand us as a patient-facing platform and to give us the time and resources to gain a dominant position as that. If we can give value to patients and we have a truly good technology that can evolve with our model and mission, we will not only grow but we will also be sustainable.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
I think it is now. We have for the first time the type of technology that we were envisioning three years ago. We have a very clear strategy and plan to follow. And we have an awesome team that is ready to scale. On top of all that, we are seeing how what we do affects both positively and directly the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the HealthUnlocked team in the next coming months?
We will improve our user experience dramatically by offering much better technology and richer services. We aim to have a good presence in more than 20 countries in at least 4 different languages over the next 6-12 months. And we want to do it with the engagement levels that we have here in the UK (ie. 40% of our active members come daily for more than 30 minutes). That would give us a leading global position and an audience of around 5 million patients monthly.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Get as much clarity as possible on what you want to do. With that, get the best investors you can to back the size of your vision and ambitions. Then, build a team that can work hard, be critical and execute.