Paris-based Uwe Diegel is an ‘official manufacturer of happiness’, VC, keynote speaker and CEO of MedActiv. Here he shares his recent experiences of crowdfunding medtech
I’ve been designing and making medical devices for the last 25 years, constantly pushing new technologies forward. I’ve been involved with some pretty cool companies, such as Microlife, Spengler and iHealth. But it’s personal experience that inspired my latest venture.
A couple of years ago my brother, an insulin-dependent diabetic, visited me. During his trip he went to a hotel in the south of France, where his medication was accidentally frozen. It was quite a dramatic event. My brother doesn’t speak French; the hotel had to call the police to open the night pharmacy, but finally, thanks to the extraordinary flexibility of the French healthcare system, fresh insulin was procured.
Back in Paris, my brother regaled me with his adventures, and we decided to make a portable fridge, as small as we could possible manufacture, to see if we could transport my brother’s insulin. On paper the idea worked, so we made a prototype, actually stealing the battery from a Sony video cam to make the sample. It worked well, despite being a little limited by the technology we had to hand when making the prototype, but a concept was born.
We started doing a bit of research and we discovered something amazing. There was a long-underestimated problem. Although we originally made our prototype for our own personal use, we discovered that the problem of keeping medication cool affected millions of people, and not just diabetics. It affects a variety of diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, growth deficiencies, in-vitro fertilization and many others
We found out that millions of people worldwide are prisoners of medication that has to stay in the fridge at all times. We also discovered that these people want to have a normal life, but they often suffer from socially crippling diseases. We learned that people who suffer from these diseases do not want to be defined by their illness and that they often leave their medication at home because they don’t want other people to know that they have a disease. The fact that they leave their medication at home means that they don’t take their medication on time and so they have particularly bad management of their disease. The bottom line is that people who suffer from chronic diseases are defined by their lifestyle. Anything that helps people to live a ‘normal’ life very quickly becomes essential.
So we knew we had a good thing – a great business concept – and a good customer base that would actually be grateful for the product that we made. We seriously got to work, started making new prototypes, researching better battery technology, founded a new company, and got ready for business.
We started building up social networks, forums, patient organisations, and quickly gaining a strong social media presence. What struck us the most was that the feedback we got was so positive. We got literally thousands of messages of support every day. Articles were shared everywhere, my personal network of over 20k medical professionals on LinkedIn all praised the project. All was well…
We started tentatively building partnerships with insurance companies, with pharmaceutical companies. We truly felt that Lifeina was the best idea we’d ever come up with… And it was. We built a strong reputation for durable product and intelligent business.
Then we thought that it would be a great idea to crowdfund on Indiegogo to generate more noise about the project. We built up a beautiful campaign –startlingly clear – with beautiful explanations, videos telling the whole story, plus perfectly clear illustrations. As with all crowdfunding campaigns, ours was based on a promise – the promise to deliver a perfect product, LifeinaBox, by June 2018. The promise that the money raised by the Indiegogo campaign would be used to manufacture a first run of devices.
The campaign was a total failure… Apart from a couple of die-hard fans and friends, hardly anyone ordered the LifeinaBox on the Indiegogo campaign. We were a little taken aback, especially that we had over 10,000 emails from people with chronic diseases telling us that they wanted to buy LifeinaBox.
So we did a bit of digging, and we had another revelation. We analysed every campaign that’s ever been on Indiegogo and discovered that, in the entire history of the site, there had never once been a successful campaign pertaining to products for chronic diseases. A chronic disease is by definition a disease that cannot be cured. If you have such a disease, it means that you will have it for the rest of your life. So people who suffer from chronic diseases are defined by their lifestyle. They suffer actively from their disease, every day, all the time. So in reality, anyone who suffers from a chronic disease is unlikely to purchase a promise of a product on Indiegogo. What they want is instant relief. And they want it now…
In the aftermath of our failed campaign we contacted a few thousand of the people who had indicated that they wanted to buy LifeinaBox to ask them why they hadn’t ordered on our crowdfunding campaign. And the verdict was unanimous.
Nearly all of them said that they would purchase it ‘as soon as it was really available’, but would not buy it six months ahead of time.
The funny thing is that if I had launched LifeinaBox as the world’s smallest fridge to keep your miniature bottles of vodka at exactly the right temperature, I would have sold out in a couple of days… But the work we are doing with LifeinaBox is going to send a giant ripple through the universe of fragile medications. We are busy changing the standards of our industry, and that takes time. This is why, in the words of Qui Gon Jinn of Star Wars, ‘I shall do what I must, Obi-Wan…’ LifeinaBox is still on the right track, whether our Indiegogo campaign worked or not…
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