Tapping into social networks to help individuals and their families forecast and avoid illness
Graham Dodge is the CEO of Sickweather. Similar to the way meteorological radars scan for indications of inclement weather conditions, Sickweather draws from social network conversation in real time to generate a live map of signs, trends, and outbreaks of illnesses in areas across the United States. As people publicly post about their and their loved ones’ symptoms, or report a sickness directly through the app, Sickweather sends location-based alerts and provides its users with regional forecasts scored by risk level. The company, which currently offers apps for the iPhone and Apple Watch, has been featured on Today, ABC, FOX, CBS, CNET, Mashable, NPR, and more.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Sickweather seems like it offers tremendous value to its users. On your end, how do you monetize the data?
GRAHAM DODGE: First, you know, privacy is of utmost concern, so we de-identify everything. We’re not selling anyone’s personal information or even specifically what they’ve said about their illness and how it’s affected them, but the data point of when and where they got sick and with which illness is extremely valuable information to pharmaceutical companies, healthcare companies—basically those that are providing services and products back to the community. We really see it as this win-win where this is information we’re collecting from social media that people are willingly putting out there, and that we’re not only giving back to the community in a meaningful way that adds value to their lives, but then it’s also a revenue generating stream for us, to the healthcare companies that provide services back to them as well. It’s almost like closing this entire social media feedback loop, specifically around the trends of illness that are observed in social media.
So, then, how is this information helpful to the consumers, to the people who’re using it? We’ve received a few testimonials now from different parents, usually with kids in daycare or school, one of which was from a mom who thanked us because our free app had alerted her to strep throat in her area. She didn’t think anything of it but the next morning her son woke up with a high fever and because she’d seen through Sickweather that strep throat was in the area, she decided to take him in to get a throat culture. Now, he didn’t have a sore throat yet, so she wouldn’t normally have done that, but he tested positive for strep, so she was able to then get him on antibiotics so he could go back to school and she could go back to work. That’s just one example of several different types of use cases around pre-diagnosis, preparation, prevention and peace of mind that our users get out of the information we’re providing.
Have you ever pivoted your revenue model?
Yes. Originally, our revenue model was very much focused on advertising. We saw ourselves as this company that was poised to grow very quickly and have this enormous audience that we would then monetize through advertising, almost like any other social networking app. But what we found is that one, a lot of the investors we met with weren’t really interested in that kind of revenue model as they had been burned by previous companies that expected the same results. So, we started to focus simultaneously on how we could monetize the data, and what was the marketplace for that data. We’ve since stumbled onto the fact that there’s this healthcare data analytics marketplace that’s expected to grow into $20 billion or so in the next few years: a marketplace with companies very similar to ourselves that are de-identifying data that they’re collecting either through EMRs [electronic medical records] and EHRs [electronic health records], through pharmaceutical sales or through social media, and that’s exactly where we fit in. But we still very much have this opportunity with regards to advertising as our consumer-facing audience grows, which it continues to.
Today, we have 200,000 downloads already of our free mobile app, and that continues to grow. We know that 10% of our audience reports their illnesses directly to us. Eventually, over time, we also have trends showing that as our audience grows we’ll be collecting more data from them than what we’re collecting from social media, and that’ll be a very important milestone for our company in terms of its value because that would be data that we’re collecting exclusively through our platform and not data people can mine elsewhere.
Do you have a lot of competition?
There aren’t a lot of competitors doing exactly what we’re doing, by walking this line between consumer-facing and enterprise, and we may be very unique in how we’re doing that. We’re almost developing as our own media channel that’s simultaneously a platform for advertisers and also a provider of data that can sell or license the data to other companies that can use it—very similar to a weather channel model or, you know, any of these companies like AccuWeather and Weather Channel Group, both of which are partners of ours.
In terms of those that we do keep our eye on in this space, there are a handful of companies that are either selling or licensing healthcare data to some of the same companies that are already licensing data from us, or are trying to compete for the mindshare of being the consumer-facing app people rely on for getting this weather map of illness. On the consumer side, we’re much further ahead in terms of our progress, in terms of number of users, from what we know of our competitors in that space. On the enterprise side, some of the biggest competitors in that space are more supplemental to what we do. One of our large pharmaceutical partners licenses data from both us and this other large competitor. So, in that case, we’re not always competing directly, even with our closest competitors.
ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN
Offit Kurman is one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. With over 120 attorneys offering a comprehensive range of services in virtually every legal category, the firm is well positioned to meet the needs of dynamic businesses and the people who own and operate them. Our eight offices serve individual and corporate clients in the Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Northern Virginia markets, as well as the Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City metropolitan areas. At Offit Kurman, we are our clients’ most trusted legal advisors, professionals who help maximize and protect business value and personal wealth. In every interaction, we consistently maintain our clients’ confidence by remaining focused on furthering their objectives and achieving their goals in an efficient manner. Trust, knowledge, confidence—in a partner, that’s perfect.
You can connect with Offit Kurman via our Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn pages. You can also sign up to receive Law Matters, Offit Kurman’s monthly newsletter covering a diverse selection of legal and corporate thought leadership content.
MARYLAND | PENNSYLVANIA | VIRGINIA| NEW JERSEY | NEW YORK | DELAWARE | WASHINGTON, DC