Pivoting a tech start-up to solve the patient no-show problem.
LoveGunn recently sat down with Daragh Donohoe, co-founder of healthtech start-up SPRYT, to talk about their COVID-induced pivot into a completely new sector. Hear what Daragh had to say about their story, the repositioning, pitching, partnerships, and processes SPRYT have gone through to prepare for their seed funding.
Daragh gives a unique account of how and why SPRYT repositioned their business, how they pitched for investment and the process SPRYT have gone through to prepare for their seed funding in 2022.
The SPRYT story
“SPRYT was initially conceived back in 2017 as a fitness scheduling business. In response to growing demand, we created an AI-powered platform that allowed users to organise amateur games of tennis and football and book courts and pitches. Whilst initially successful, we soon realised that the majority of users would migrate from the SPRYT platform to WhatsApp groups once teams, friendship groups and new members were familiar with one another.
From the inception of SPRYT, we’ve always believed that we had to be agile, and evolve based on the feedback we were getting. Users leaving our platform meant we had to make significant changes to stay ahead of the game. After talking to a core set of users, they told us about another more pressing pain point they were having when arranging their games: the number of last-minute dropouts and no shows. We wondered if there was a way we could somehow predict team drop-outs before they happen, so a team could find replacement players in time.
WE WERE LEFT STARING INTO THE ABYSS, NOT KNOWING HOW LONG IT WAS GOING TO LAST OR IF WE’D EVER GET OUT ONTO A PITCH AGAIN.
We were already focusing on AI and how we could use machine learning to create a better product and experience – so we developed a beta ‘virtual teammate’ within the WhatsApp groups. Using language analysis, our virtual teammate, which was essentially a conversational agent, would analyse the conversation and predict the likely no-shows within the group – then find a player to stand in. We were developing and improving the accuracy of the predictions and having some real success with it, and then BANG! COVID hits, everyone was told to stay at home; all sport, whether it was professional or just a bunch of mates having a kickabout, stopped and we were left staring into the abyss not knowing how long it was going to last or if we’d ever get out onto a pitch again.
COVID catapulted the need for digital solutions
Overnight, team sports dropped off entirely, and we were in limbo. Do we sit at home waiting for it to blow over so we can get back on the pitch, or can we help?
COVID put many demands upon society, but it seemed the most impacted was the healthcare sector. I saw first-hand the pressure the NHS was under even before the pandemic from my girlfriend who previously worked in healthcare, with COVID amplifying these challenges in an already over-stretched healthcare system.
Lockdown seemed to make us all slow down and reflect on the only thing that was important: health. We felt compelled to regroup as more pressing needs emerged – and we wanted to help. We found that one of healthcare’s biggest hurdles is not even a healthcare one; it’s a scheduling one.
Whilst COVID has propelled the NHS’s digital transformation journey ten years into the future, it has also exposed parts of the healthcare system that still rely on outdated and paper-based processes. A solution to these medical pressures felt more meaningful than our existing sports-tech business. Whilst we were already encouraging people to get active, we saw the opportunity to pivot and make a real impact.
We already had innovative AI scheduling technology in development so we were well placed to create something complex yet seamless. We finally got the concept and features pinned down – we managed to develop a solution that can predict and flag potential appointment no-shows. As a result, this solution should free up time for more urgent patient care whilst reducing clinics’ revenue losses caused by missed appointments.
Our purpose starts with the patient
It was clear to everyone that the need was there from both patients and the healthcare system. However, with time pressure and no magic money tree, getting the right people on board and showcasing the benefits through case studies amid lockdown was a challenge.
To develop the product as the go-to healthcare booking solution, we needed to understand the unique needs, motivations and behaviours of both our B2B and B2C users. Our research outlined what our AI technology needed to offer patients and practitioners: access to appointment information, real-time updates, and reminders. We also needed to draw actionable insights to improve the end-to-end patient experience for the future.
MISSED MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS COST THE US HEALTHCARE SYSTEM OVER $150B* EACH YEAR.
We defined a purpose that we truly believe in: we want to ‘empower patients with an intelligent, accessible booking solution that allows them to take control of their medical appointments’. We intend to reduce no-shows by more than 50% and reduce clinic staff admin time by 90%.
The Raise: The long road to seed funding
Every successful startup journey is unique, but the foundations are a strong team and advisors, MVP or Minimum Viable Product, a Minimum Viable Audience – who are your first customers? leading to early signs of traction. A One-Pager and Investor Deck are required to engage with relevant investors. I would suggest enlisting the services of a design agency to create a slick deck. VCs are sent hundreds of decks daily so you need to differentiate your start-up from the competition. Google Guy Kawasaki pitch deck to get an idea of the slides you need in your deck.
We were lucky enough to receive grant funding from Innovate UK; but, not always being able to pay yourself a sufficient salary can accelerate the urgency of the subsequent funding round for many founders. We’ve found multiple funding sources to work well, as we’ve always tried to ensure there is a substantial runway to survive if things take longer than planned.
We closed our pre-seed round with AI specialists Fountech Ventures, in early 2021, providing us with a 12-month runway to continue developing our product with evidence-based research and test cases. Our seed funding round is approaching, which should provide a 12-18 month runway enabling us to continue the development of our product and run a clinical trial.
You can’t put a price on partnerships
Whilst the pre-seed funding stage didn’t formally require complex test cases, we knew the benefit of early primary research and studies would be huge. Each partnership needed a strategic, tailored approach due to the complexities of the UK healthcare industry – in particular, the NHS. I can’t reiterate enough the importance of having these conversations as early as possible as everything takes longer than you hope.
Our biggest wins are our partnerships with GE Healthcare, Wayra Telefonica, Alliance Medical, The University of Surrey, and The University of Swansea; each partnership offered something unique. We are working with GE Healthcare and Alliance Medical to deliver a patient-first and intelligent system to reduce inefficiencies in the screening and diagnostic care pathway –
The University of Surrey research will provide clinical effectiveness data, health economics, NHS workforce, patient-reported outcomes measures (PROMS), administration time, and clinic capacity savings for patients, clinicians, and administrative personnel.
The Swansea University research collaboration will include access to the SAIL appointment scheduling dataset, one of the most comprehensive datasets of its type in the UK (>13M patient records from NHS Wales); the findings will facilitate the training of our AI models.
Be prepared for setbacks
As with all investment journeys, it doesn’t always go to plan; regularly assessing the risk should mitigate nasty surprises. My suggestion would be to double your ideal time frame – you’re better off being realistic and exceeding these targets than being disappointed.
From personal experience and conversations with peers, the investment journey is more demanding than many founders anticipate – it can be disheartening if investors don’t see the value of your offering. But don’t take it personally. I would suggest engaging with your B investor list initially to gauge early feedback and tweak your pitch.
No sophisticated investor will want to over dilute the founders in the early rounds, as they’ll want you to remain interested and invested in running the company. Be prepared to give away 10- 20%.
Fill a gap, or find a new offering
There are many factors that should provide you with the perfect investment recipe, but as we found, external drivers can change in a second. The two prerequisites are agility, and demand for your product.
Every crisis is an opportunity. When COVID hit, we rapidly pivoted our strategy to focus on the much greater problem of patient non-attendance in healthcare. Founders must be aware of what is happening outside of their business, as an even more significant opportunity could be around the corner.
Our USP has been our backbone; we are offering something that does good and fills a gap in the market. Early-stage founders should keep this at the forefront of their strategy and product development, as trying to add value in a saturated market where your offering is unnecessary will be almost impossible.
With the product and demand in place, the brand, strategy, and talent enabled our growth.
Harness the power of your people
A company is nothing without the right team. Hiring suitable candidates at the relevant stages is always a challenge whilst juggling tight budgets. There are two stages of this hunt for talent: the founding team, and the talent that fills the gaps later on.
Much to everyone’s surprise, we didn’t actually have a technical co-founder. Growth in our early stages would certainly have been easier if we had. I would advise anyone in a similar boat to find a co-founding partner specialising in the field in which you operate. A technology company with a hands-on techy Founder may appear more credible to investors than a similar company predominantly outsourcing this function.
When considering who should be hired next, onboard people with a strong network and specialisms you’re either lacking or too busy to do yourself. The seniority of these individuals is dependent on finances, but investing in someone who has experience taking businesses of a similar size or within the same industry through funding will be a considerable investment.
Always ask for referrals and introductions to keep building those relationships. These initial conversations led us to outsource our complex AI technology requirements to Fountech Solutions.
Turning your business into a brand
When it comes to branding and positioning your company, naturally, you’ll want to showcase all of your hard work. As a result, founders can struggle to be objective and omit messaging that’s no longer relevant. We’ve derived huge value from onboarding a 3rd party; strategists can analyse your existing brand and create a strong strategy with concise messaging. This strategy is essential for investor presentations – we give huge credit to our magnificent investor deck for opening the right doors.
We started building our relationship with the team at LoveGunn over three years ago – at a hackathon at Chelsea FC as it happens. It’s always a great idea to begin speaking to specialists earlier than you think. We engaged LoveGunn at the start of our transformation to play a central role in positioning, branding and developing our personalised, predictive, and prescriptive digital solution. As a result of the creative strategy, uniquely positioned visual identity, and sales propositions, we’ve had significant success across the board.
Like many of us, we’re looking forward to saying goodbye to the last year but we are also thankful for the opportunities that it has presented to us. We’re excited for the next step in this journey; to make a global success of SPRYT, but also to make a difference.
The Raise is an on-going series of interviews with start-up CEOs and entrepreneurs by LoveGunn. The series is designed to help share the stories, knowledge and experiences of the incredible and inspirational people we are privileged to meet, partner and work with.
At LoveGunn, we work with a number of start-ups from Seed Round through to Series C. If you would like to work with us on your venture’s brand strategy, positioning or identity please contact: [email protected] To feature on The Raise, please contact: [email protected]