Interview with HelpAround’s co-founder and CEO Yishai Knobel

HelpAround's co-founder and CEO Yishai Knobel

Today we’re “talking” with Yishai Knobel, co-founder and CEO of HelpAround, which is touted as the first “Mobile Safety Net” for people with diabetes and their loved ones. Prior to founding HelpAround, Knobel built the mobile health business at Boston-based AgaMatrix, maker of iBGStar, the world’s first iPhone glucose monitor. Even before that, he worked at Ray Ozzie’s Microsoft Startup Labs in Cambridge, MA.

Knobel is obviously an interesting guy, and here’s what he had to share with us:

How would you pitch your company? What’s your elevator pitch?

HelpAround provides a new layer of support for chronic patients, focusing initially on the diabetes pandemic. Its patent pending system continuously updates a personalized set of potential “diabetes helpers” from users’ social graphs and public social media streams to help resolve sudden health crises, e.g. when caught on-the-go without OTC diabetes test strips.

HelpAround’s location-based communities also crowdsource the best local healthcare services, insurance plans, doctors, pharmacies and retail opportunities. For existing patient communities, HelpAround offers a free mobile hosting platform for their patient groups, to facilitate stronger real-life support among their members.

What sets you apart from competitors?

Our main competitors are existing communities that are currently trying to expand to mobile. That said, they haven’t gone beyond forcing the existing online forums into apps. The diabetes safety net that HelpAround provides is tailored for each individual user, making connections within the app completely customized based on user’s location and existing social graphs. The discussions are immediate, and through the app, 85% of questions are answered within an hour – the same cannot be said for the forum approach that most of our competitors are relying on.

What’s your business model?

HelpAround has unique knowledge of (1) users’ medical conditions, (2) location, and most important (3) what they’re looking for at the moment. Given that chronic patients (e.g. with diabetes) fill out 10 prescriptions per month, they embody lucrative potential customers for nearby retailers. We are able to sell retailers a way to address the patient’s need at the right time and potentially acquire them as customers.

We’ve also seen pharma and insurance companies inquiring about condition-specific local communities, but we see these deals as more opportunistic and less strategic in the long run. For instance, Pfizer has created a smoking cessation HelpAround community in Seattle, to promote its drug Chantix.

Can you share some numbers? How many users do you have?

Because we’re still in beta, we do not want to disclose specific numbers. Although we are in the beginning stages of the company, we have found that 85% of help requests are being answered within an hour. This is critical to our continued growth, showcasing that even though we are just getting our footing, we are able to provide vital help for our users when they need it.

Where do you see the company going from here?

We are seeing increasing demand for additional patient communities beyond diabetes (e.g. cancer) and that is definitely our vision. For now, HelpAround is gradually becoming the go-to platform for hosting patient communities, both for healthcare providers and non-profit patient advocacy organizations. Our plans are to develop the platform into a robust patient support solution throughout 2014, combining peer support as well as professional services, e.g. our “Nurse on Call” feature which includes 3 free calls per month for each.

Where do you see the mHealth industry going?

Right now, the mHealth industry is booming because of the massive amount of data being collected, driving the question, “How are we going to use it?” At HelpAround, we are excited about the boundless opportunities this data provides in bridging the gaps in consumer health – gathering the data, making sense of it, and keeping our users from falling between the cracks of healthcare systems. Collecting data is only worth something if we can use it to increase the quality and availability of care. So many companies are collecting data, and this creates an opportunity for us not only to give users online support, but to ultimately improve healthcare worldwide.

How long are we from seeing modern mHealth technologies going mainstream?

Before mHealth technologies can go mainstream, they must first switch their focus from giving users more tasks (e.g. wearing trackers, connecting devices, and giving data) to serving the users emotional needs. mHealth should evolve to become low maintenance, with little input and maximum output. If the emotional needs of the users come first, the health needs will follow.