What’s Brewing at Massive Health? A Chat with Newly Funded Co-Founders Sutha Kamal and Aza Raskin

2/2/11Follow @wroush

Forget stealth mode—these days the coolest pre-launch Silicon Valley companies are in ninja mode. That’s how Sutha Kamal, the CEO of San Francisco-based Massive Health, describes his situation in a blog post today announcing the company’s $2.25 million seed funding round.

Luckily, I got Kamal and co-founder Aza Raskin to come far enough out of their ninja-turtle shells to tell me a little bit about the company and its plans, which center on using mobile apps to help people with chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart disease take charge of their own health. The company expects to release its first app sometime this year, Kamal said.

Certainly, these guys have plenty of street cred on the software, wireless, and product design sides. Kamal managed mobile strategy and product design at TransGaming Technologies, a Canadian iPhone game developer, and ran a mobile content portal called Ambient Vector. Raskin was the head of user experience at Mozilla Labs and ultimately became creative lead for the Firefox browser. After leaving Mozilla in December to start Massive Health, Raskin blogged that “healthcare needs to have its design renaissance,” and said he wanted to apply his experience building products that are “disruptively easier and more enjoyable to use” to the challenge of helping people stay healthy.

But exactly how a team of three product-and-programming guys (Kamal and Raskin are joined by engineering lead Doug Soo, formerly of Linden Lab) plans to disrupt the notoriously complex, messy, and intractable economy of U.S. healthcare isn’t clear yet. Judging from Kamal’s post, the company’s apps will incorporate all the fashionable elements you might expect—crowdsourcing, game mechanics, the social graph, data analysis, and “tight feedback loops”—but in ways that aren’t reminiscent of today’s social-networking apps. “We’re not proposing giving you a badge for eating your broccoli or letting you check-in and become duke of ranch dressing,” Kamal writes, in a cheeky dig at Foursquare.

That seems to have been enough to convince investors. The unusually large seed round—which is almost Series A-sized—comes from an all-star team of venture investors, including Mohr Davidow Ventures, Greylock Partners’ Discovery Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, Aydin Senkut’s Felicis Ventures, Charles River Ventures, and the Collaborative Fund, as well as a group of “amazing angels” that the company hasn’t identified.

Now that the company has some money to throw around, it says it’s hiring—current job listings call for a “Front-End(ish) Engineer” and a “Back-End(ish) Engineer.” Applicants should be able to “run with the ball without guidance but know when to pass or assist,” the startup’s site says, but winningly adds, “Getting sports analogies shouldn’t be your strong point.”

Here’s a writeup of my brief conversation today with Kamal and Raskin.

Xconomy: You guys have managed to stay pretty deep in stealth mode. What are you up to, and what will the new funding help you do?

Aza Raskin: We looked at the state of the world and realized that 90 percent of U.S. healthcare costs go to 15 percent of patients—people with diabetes, weight loss problems, hypertension, heart disease. We are trying to create fantastically user-centric products that tackle these really hard problems that are going to be the pandemics of our times. The reason we raised as much as we did, $2.25 million as a seed round, was to give us the leeway to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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