My Startup: Hospify, Lancashire
In our My Startup series, we’re exploring some of the North’s most innovative, impactful and fast-growing startups. This week, we’re looking at Hospify.
Hospify was founded to provide a reliable, quick and compliant method for medical professionals to communicate with each other.
Founders: Jim Flint, Neville Dastur, Charles Nduka
Jim Flint, Co-founder and CEO, spoke to us about Hospify’s background, ambitious plans, and how tech could solve healthcare’s biggest problems.
Why did you and your co-founders start Hospify?
My co-founders are surgeons, and were working together on an operation. They have this high-tech system for the numbers of junior doctors and emergency assistants - they're written on a piece of paper blu-tacked to the wall.
That piece of paper was missing, so they couldn't get hold of a junior doctor who was really important for the operation. After they finished the operation - which thankfully went OK - they thought “this is ridiculous!” Their smartphones had five communications apps, and the hospital was still relying on paper and fax machines.
Neville’s a coder, and Charles has quite a lot of experience in technology. They called me up - I'm a technology journalist by profession, and I've built quite a lot of media platforms - to come in to help, because they didn't want an NHS-blinkered view.
Neville built a tester, and I got us on [Bethnal Green Investments’] incubator, who gave us money and support, before we founded the company with David Sharples, an accountant based in Lancashire.
We heard about GDPR, which I'd never heard of - nor had anybody in 2015. I travelled up to Manchester to meet the Information Commissioner's Office to talk to their health lead.
She told us about the problems it would create with using tools like WhatsApp in healthcare. We thought, why don't we build a version of WhatsApp, compliant with information governance in health, and GDPR?
We spent three years talking to people, with everyone saying "no-one's going to care." And now, six months after GDPR, we’re rung up all the time. Everyone is taking GDPR very, very seriously.
Tell us more about the technology behind Hospify.
Our competition is WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, the free version of Skype, and Signal - who make money by monetising your data. We don't have that revenue stream available to us. It's health, and we can't monetise people's data - it's imperative that we don't.
We took inspiration from the peer-to-peer networks that were around in the 90s and 2000s in the music industry - like Napster - and built a messaging app on that basis.
By turning the phone into the server, just using the internet for real-time transit of the messages, we could reduce the costs associated with running a messaging service.
So Hospify, although looking and feeling like WhatsApp, at the back end is completely different. On the free version you only have one device for an account, but it means we know all the data is in your phone.
We use a partner service to transit over the internet, and delete any transit messages after 72 hours, then we delete it from the phones after 30 days.
We can say to a hospital, health organisation or local authority: "use Hospify - you know what your data liabilities are, where your data is, [and] after 30 days the information’s gone. We're a small team - we just have our software, compliance work, and message transit costs - it can scale without scaling server costs and liabilities, and it's compliant.”
Where are you at right now?
We’re in a growth phase, thanks to an organisation in Yorkshire called Locala, a local health organisation.
We're also rolling out the paid version, Hospify Hub, and we've got our first paying clients now. That requires lots of rollout and testing, and lots of customer service. We've been in proof-of-concept mode for most of the last year, and now we're in product rollout.
We've got genuine users now, people actually depending on it at work, and organisations starting to use it in official capacities. We're talking to a couple of CCGs [Clinical Commissioning Groups] now, and quite a lot of trusts who have signed it off.
We’re emerging blinking into the light.
What are your aims for the next year?
Having proved the concept of the business, we're doing a new funding round. Right now, it's still being run by myself, Neville, and another developer, along with a small team of people giving us various support.
We're hiring a proper development team. We might take on an office or do something along those lines. Next year, we’ve got to grow the user numbers and the amount of sales by probably 20 or 30.
We know this is working. People want it, people are using it, and now we've got to really raise some money and take it to the next level. That's the big challenge right now - getting out of pure start-up mode into a viable business mode.
What's been the hardest thing about getting Hospify off the ground?
Everything's been hard. I wonder what the hardest thing is. I thought it'd be easy to raise investment in health - but that's not been true at all. People are really leery of investing in anything that sells to the NHS. I didn't realise how hard it is to sell into the NHS, and how aware investors are of this.
It's taken us much longer than it should have to build the app, because we've had to do it all ourselves. Now’s the toughest time, because we're scaling, but still a very small team.
Why should more people be using Hospify?
Because Hospify is dedicated to changing the relationship between users and providers in this messaging space.
We've gone through this period with the growth of the internet, where we pay for everything with data. It allowed amazing companies like Google and Facebook to grow and create global systems which have changed lives. But the price to pay has been personal privacy.
We've seen in 2018 how dangerous that can be. We can't let that happen in health. You can't compromise people's healthcare information. Hospify's mission is to bring the benefits of universal communication and simplicity into healthcare, without compromising data.
We're dedicated to producing a simple, trusted mechanism to share your intimate details with your healthcare provider - without fearing it’s going to end up on a server in the US or Russia and be used to target you with advertising, change what you pay for insurance, or anything else.
How much will the Hub cost users, and why is it worth the investment?
For 50 people it's £2500 a year, for 250 people it's £6250 a year, and for 1000 people it's £10000 a year.
For more than that, we'll do a deal which is cost-effective for you, and us. The Royal Stoke, where we're piloting, have got 11,500 staff. They wouldn't be able to take it out at £1 a user per month, they’d need to pay less than that - they couldn't afford it otherwise.
If you use a comparative system, you'll pay a lot more. We're 10 times cheaper than most of the competition, because we have a very small team, a very tight budget, and reduce the server overhead by using phones for storage.
You can broadcast messaging using it too - push messages out and get a response. That's really important; increasingly hospitals, CCGs and surgeries need to poll their patients [and] push out alerts. You can do all of that using Hospify, it's very powerful.
One of the ways people are doing these functions at the moment is by using broadcast SMS platforms. Not only is it not secure and not very compliant, you can't get answers back, and it’s expensive. CCGs are picking up the costs for GP surgeries and hospitals to send messages to patients at scale, often spending £500,000 or more a year!
Why use Hospify? Because you can start to phase out text messaging, and start to phase in a much more efficient way to communicate with large numbers of people. And you can save a lot of money in a way that's much more convenient, in a way that's really trusted.
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