Keas, Founded by Former Google and Bit9 Execs, Tries to Make Online Care Plans Pay
Keas has an online platform that gives patients interactive software for improving their health. But the San Francisco-based startup has had to change its strategy to find customers to pay for its technology.
In October 2009, Keas made its first big public debut, with articles in the New York Times and on a Wall Street Journal blog. It also rolled out its online system to the public for free. Founded by former Google Health head Adam Bosworth and Boston-area tech veteran George Kassabgi, the startup originally set out to create an online marketplace of care plans for consumers.
The vision was for health experts, like physicians from outside the company, to design online care plans for use on the Keas website, and then for people to choose the care plans that best suited their health goals (such as losing weight, reducing cholesterol, or controlling blood sugar). The envisioned online marketplace functioned similar to the iPhone App Store. To date, the company has succeeded in getting 30,000 people to register to use the site and health providers like Joslin Diabetes Center and CVS MinuteClinic to design care plans. But what has worked for Apple didn’t take off for Keas.
Keas, which has raised venture capital from Atlas Venture and Ignition Partners since its founding in 2008, was disappointed to learn late last year how little consumers would actually be willing to pay for its service and menu of care plans. At the same time, the physician community was slow to warm up to the idea of providing patients online care plans, since most doctors make money by seeing patients in their offices. In December, the startup figured out that it needed to revamp its business model that relied on consumers to buy its services for the business to make money, Bosworth said, the firm’s chief executive.
“We said ‘Aha, this might not be a great business model,'” Bosworth said. “This happens to startups, it’s not a cause for instant panic.”
Keas hasn’t changed its core technology or its focus on providing patients with online care plans that are personalized to their condition. (For example, the system is capable of providing color-coded feedback like a red button on a patient’s online dashboard that warns her that her cholesterol is too high and she should see a doctor.) But the company has changed its view on where to market its services. Two target markets for the firm today, Bosworth said, are major employers and healthcare products companies like drug-makers.
Employers, especially large self-insured ones, would pay for online care plans from Keas to improve the health and productivity of their work forces, said Kassabgi, the chief operation officer of the firm. The idea would also be to reduce the companies’ healthcare costs. Kassabgi, who is the former CEO of the security software firm Bit9 in Waltham, MA, said that the firm plans to make some major announcements about its progress in the employer market in the coming months.
The company has already disclosed a big win in the pharmaceutical industry, which has an interest in using Keas’s technology to provide patients with reminders to take their medicines and to boost awareness of products, Bosworth said. The drug giant Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) announced a partnership with Keas in February. Though Bosworth declined to discuss the specific ways the New York-based drug company will use his firm’s technology, he did say that his firm has added a text-messaging capability that could remind people to take their meds or to schedule a visit with their doctor.
Jeff Fagnan, a partner at Atlas Venture in Waltham and an early investor in Keas, said that he wasn’t surprised by the change in strategy at the company. “We view this as a more scalable way to get early revenue,” he said.
On both the pharma and employer fronts, Keas has some plucky competitors offering ways to help patients manage their health online. Cambridge, MA-based PatientsLikeMe, which provides social networks for patients, has attracted partnerships with such drug-makers as Switzerland-based Novartis and Brussels-based UCB. And in recent weeks, the Boston area’s Healthrageous launched with plans to provide its own interactive online system to promote healthy behavior for employees of EMC, the Hopkinton, MA-based data storage giant, and other large employers.
A key difference between Keas and its competition, Bosworth said, is that the firm’s technology was built as an open platform that enables people outside the company to develop care plans on their own. Bosworth has spent much of his career developing software that makes technology more accessible to people. During his stint at Microsoft, he helped develop the database software Access and Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s Web browser. Later, at Google, he helped create the Internet giant’s Blogger, Calendar, and Spreadsheets applications.
Keas has also figured out ways to give its users greater access to their personal health data that lives online or in electronic form. Its users can download their personal health data from their Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault accounts to Keas. People can also move electronic data on their lab tests from Quest Diagnostics, one of the world’s largest providers of medical tests, to their Keas accounts.
In the meantime, Bosworth has joined forces with the likes of Jamie Heywood, co-founder and chairman of PatientsLikeMe, Google Health, Microsoft, and many others to advocate for a Patients Bill of Rights, which demands that patients have greater access to their own health information. The group made its campaign public last year with the launch of a website, HealthDataRights.org.
Keas might still realize its initial vision of a consumer-driven online marketplace for care plans. But at least for now, the firm is counting on big businesses—and not consumers—to pay its bills.
Atlas’s Fagnan said that his firm would invest in Keas again to support its revamped strategy. The venture investor said: “I’m really impressed with these guys going through the analysis of where their early revenue is going to come from and what partners are going to be early revenue sources.”
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