Following on the post earlier this week about investing in Teragence, I also wanted to write a bit about another angel investment I made last year: Abi Global Health. Abi is a messenger based service that allows consumers to get health advice from actual doctors.
Anyone can sign up on the Abi site, but the most common use-case will likely be via partnerships with insurance companies. A first target market, and one I can definitely relate to, is expat health insurance. Living here in Catalonia there is no shortage of excellent health care, but I notice that the barrier of a foreign language and culture means that tiny extra bit of inertia needs to be overcome before making a trip to a doctor. If I break my arm, I’m obviously off to the emergency room, but plenty of times you have non-urgent medical questions (this is especially the case when you have kids). I can start searching around online, but that can take a long time, and the quality and reliability of what you find is highly variable. And research on the internet is one directional; I consume information. Abi is the tool to cut through all that and chat directly with a doctor - in the language of my choosing, discussing (and if helpful sending pictures of) my specific symptoms and history, in a messaging environment I’m already very familiar with.
So, why did I chose to invest in this business, not least as this could not be farther from my prefered category of geo/location based services?
Great founders. Kim was EVP at SERMO, the largest social network for doctors. Victor is a doctor with experience in telemedicine, having co-founded Spherea. Both have lived in many different countries and know the challenge of being an expat. They understand the concerns of the patients, but also of the doctors.
I am betting on the megatrend of messaging. Like with my investment in Hubtype, the fact that messaging has become so pervasive, and that this will necessarily spill over from private friend-to-friend interactions into more professional interactions, is a key factor. Quite simply, companies will need to begin interacting with their customers via messaging apps. It will not be easy, this is a big usability and technical challenge, but it is coming.
I like the product approach the Abi team have taken. Since studying this space I have seen start-ups touting (and getting funding for) their “AI solves everything” approach. I don’t think I am a luddite when I say that a pure tech approach in patient interaction is simply implausible. Even assuming such technology could be made to reliably work - and an interaction with almost any automated customer service bot should be enough to challenge that idea - there are huge cultural and legal issues involved. Abi’s approach is to connect people with licensed physicians. Abi uses very advanced technology to help make the conversation more productive. Critically though, the core value proposition of Abi is that you are dealing with an accredited doctor.
Likewise, I am a fan of the business approach Abi has taken. For the past few months Abi has been open to consumers. This has worked well at creating usage and helped the team quickly iterate on the product. Building new things is hard, and the team has been evolving the product rapidly. But behind the scenes they have also been holding many conversations with health insurance companies and other healthcare organizations. Those organizations don’t move quickly, they have concerns and questions that need to be addressed, but the first contracts are now signed and trials are running. In the near future the B2B side of the business should start bearing fruit, and these types of partnerships will become a major channel for how people are introduced to Abi.
Nothing about what Abi is doing is easy. They are packaging the exceptionally complex topic of healthcare in a new and rapidly evolving format. They are closing partnerships with slow moving enterprises. And they are doing this globally. But it is precisely because all of this is hard, that I think the rewards - for consumers, for the doctors, for partners, and of course also for the business - can be large.