Using Indiegogo to take consumers’ pulse

29 Jan

Using Indiegogo to take consumers’ pulse

4 6 7

BlipCare, a Chicago-based maker of health care products, is shifting its focus from hospitals to consumers and using crowd-funding site Indiegogo to help. It’s not that BlipCare is depending on donations to determine whether to build its new Wi-Fi-enabled blood-pressure monitor and scale. Instead, the company is using Indiegogo campaigns to test the market and learn more about its prospective customers.

CEO Sukhwant Khanuja tells Crain’s contributor Steve Hendershot about that strategy, and more about the company’s new consumer products — the scale and blood-pressure monitor together cost about $250, compared with $1,500 for BlipCare’s clinical offerings.

 - The blood pressure monitor

The blood pressure monitor


Your blood-pressure monitor campaign already hit its target, but the scale campaign fell well short of its goal. What are you hoping to accomplish through the crowd-funding campaigns?

The consumer market is something we don’t know much about. We haven’t done consumer marketing, so we knew we needed to understand what that customer would really want. That was one reason why we went to the crowd-funding approach— because crowd funding lets you test response before you go and build 50,000 units. At our price point, we need to build in volume, not in small runs. And to go out and build 5,000 units or 10,000 units, we need to know that we’ll be able to sell them in a reasonable period of time. The crowd-funding platform allows us to test that.

What happened was very interesting. Even though we didn’t raise a lot of funding, we got interest from around the world — Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Dubai, Turkey, Malaysia. It created a conversation we had not anticipated. And now companies are coming to us, telecommunications companies like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and Verizon, saying they have all these people who they sell Wi-Fi to, and they could offer our applications to their subscribers to make that business more sticky. So this has opened up very interested channel opportunities for us, and we hadn’t anticipated that. We were planning to sell directly to consumers.

What have you learned about your customers? Who’s going to be these Wi-Fi devices?

There are three groups of people. There’s the clinical market, of course, where doctors are interested in taking care of patients. There’s also the athletic people who like to monitor themselves and keep track of their own health. Those are mostly 20- to 40-year-olds. And that group doesn’t want to buy for their parents, because the parents are still in good health. But the third group is 30- to 50-year-olds whose parents are between 50 and 70 and who are starting to manifest heart failure, diabetes, hypertension and so on. This is the group that buys it for their parents.

Tell me more about the products and vision. What’s the benefit of putting Wi-Fi in a home blood-pressure monitor or scale?

My dad thought I was nuts to do what I was doing. One day when he was visiting, we gave him the blood pressure monitor and discovered his systolic number was not coming down. I took it to a cardiologist friend who said that my dad has systolic hypertension. Often that’s not diagnosed — doctors ignore the systolic number and focus on the diastolic; they assume that the systolic number is temporarily elevated because you had coffee or walked up the stairs. But he had systolic hypertension, which is manifested most commonly in people older than 50. So that made a believer out of him.

Different people have different biorhythms or circadian rhythms. Not everybody has the same lifestyle, and as a result, some people see their blood pressure spike at noon, and for some people it spikes at night. So if your doctor says to take a medication once a day, some people should take it in the evening and some people should take it in the morning. Nobody knows which one is right for them.

We really wanted to bring the answer to the consumer level, and the only way to do it was to put a Wi-Fi radio in the monitor and use home Wi-Fi, because that way the cost is manageable. Previously we had been selling a blood-pressure monitor and also a hub to receive the data which had a modem to send out the data. The cost was always higher because you had to provide the hub and the device.

We learned from our clinical experience that people need to be nudged periodically. They use something for a while and then fall off the bandwagon and need to be brought back. The cost of reminding somebody is quite high. So we put a little beeper in the blood pressure monitor, like a wristwatch alarm clock, and it beeps at you and you can program it on the Web. I gave this blood pressure monitor to my dad, who is not living with me, and then both monitored him remotely and also set it up so if he does not take a reading by 9 a.m. it starts beeping at him.

Any other features in the consumer models that are derived from seeing your clinical products in action?

 - The scale

The scale


We also learned that people don’t have multiple scales in the bathroom. So you have to have a “Guest” button. And you may want your spouse to use the scale, too, but without corrupting your data — so there are two user buttons in both the blood pressure monitor and the weight scale so that your spouse can also use it.

This is all learning from the clinical product, which was built for a single user and never bought by the patient; it was bought by the insurance company or home care agency. But now, we’re really getting into preventative stuff. For $100 or $150 you could buy these as a gift with no monthly fees or extra charges. It’s free for life, and you stay connected.

“Silicon City” is a weekly report on Chicago tech startup news and newsmakers written by Crain’s contributor Steve Hendershot.

Share your ideas and news tips on the local tech startup scene with Steve via email: stevehendershot@gmail.com. Check out Steve’s blog here. And follow him on Twitter:@stevehendershot.

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Follow John on Twitter at @JohnPletz.

http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130122/BLOGS11/130129978/using-indiegogo-to-take-consumers-pulse

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