Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you end up in Vermont?
I studied at ETH Zurich, one of the top three universities in the world for Science and Technology. I then accepted an offer from the Boston Consulting Group. Right after graduation, I went back-packing through Latin America for half a year. I met my spouse in Managua, Nicaragua. As it happens, she was a professor at UVM and traveling to conferences. Eventually, via Zurich, Madrid, Mexico City, and New York City, I moved to Vermont to be with her about 17 years ago now.
Coming to Vermont and having a strong industry background in healthcare, I made it my mission to empower patients. Over the years I started a number of companies to explore innovative ways to give patients more of a voice in their own care. The first one was Patient Empowerment Systems. I hacked into wearable hardware and repurposed it to allow people to track symptoms and behavior. I then spent over 8 years as part of a dedicated team launching Dynamic Clinical Systems.
We introduced Patient Reporting Outcomes tracking in hospital care, especially in the clinical areas of Orthopedics and Oncology, to track what ultimately matters to patients aside from life and death: Their quality of life, ability to function, and severity of symptoms. We answered the questions: What actually works in real-life healthcare today? E.g., who gets better from spine surgery, who doesn’t? Why? And we introduced individual, longitudinal outcomes reporting in the care encounter. Our clients were industry leaders, amongst them Dartmouth, University of San Francisco, and the Cleveland Clinic. We had a successful exit from that company eventually. When the iPhone came out I jumped on the opportunity and made self-tracking apps as a hobby. Turns out my apps received a lot of press and critical acclaim, from the Physician’s Practice Journal, The Doctor Weighs In, #1 features by the Apple App Store, to the Dr. Oz Show. While Track & Share Apps have become a nice lifestyle business, I’m always thinking about what I can do for healthcare next with another catalytic, disruptive startup. That’s why I launched Zeebo.
What is Zeebo?
Zeebo pills are honest placebos designed for focus on symptom relief. Taking pills is deeply anchored in our culture. The placebo effect is well-documented. Interestingly, today it is almost impossible to get new pain medication approved by the FDA because patients’ response to placebos is growing- based on trust in brands and pills fueled by direct-to-consumer advertising. Let’s embrace this phenomenon! There is a place for the skillful use of placebos for symptom relief and performance enhancement in regular care. To deliver the largest placebo benefit with Zeebo, we try to mimic the look and feel of a pharma company with our market presence. We even have an app to let you track if you get better when taking placebos. At this time, Zeebo is a dietary supplement that we sell through Amazon.
Who is Zeebo for?
Taking a placebo pill for symptom relief can work for anyone. You just don’t know if you are a placebo responder until you try. There are certain groups of people that tend to buy Zeebo. Often it’s adults who give them as a present to their elderly parents because they are concerned about them taking too many medications. Staff in nursing homes tell me that some patients take so many different drugs for symptom relief that it is hard to know which ones actually make a difference for the patient. We also get orders from dentists who presumably are offering them for stress relief during dental work.
Do you have anything else coming down the pike?
I always have time to start another company since all of my companies are self-sustaining. I’m interested in working with financial donors next. While I like self-sustaining companies that do the right thing, sometimes it’s good to have a lot of resources available to have a larger impact on society. And given how our healthcare system is set up, money streams are not always aligned with the most relevant startup ideas. So, if you have a million to spare and care about IOS as much as ROI, call me (IOS=Impact On Society).
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
I’ve been working with startups for awhile now and I’ve come to realize that you really need to be passionate about what you’re doing. If you care about what you do, success becomes irrelevant and just happens on the way. Value your freedom. If you can be self-sustaining then you are always free to choose where you’re going next. Initially, stay away from investors. If you want to scale up later to have a larger impact, or simply want to get rich, that is the time to invite investors in. Embrace struggle and failure. You learn most from failure. There is a liberating truth in the embarrassment of failure itself.
How did you end up at VCET?
I was one of the first people here. I used to work from home and in cafes, so when I heard about VCET in the Burlington Free Press, I applied right away. I highly recommend it! I get to ride my bike along the lake to work. It’s a great way to get my day started.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
I’m taking Zeebo pills myself. I’ve built pill-taking into my meditation ritual to increase my concentration power and sensory clarity.
Congratulations are also in order to Reconciled It, a Burlington company co-founded by our own Bonnie Reese. Reconciled It has just been named one of the top Global Firms of the Future runner-ups by Intuit Inc. Check out the announcement here.
New VCET member OhMD, led by CEO Ethan Bechtal, has partnered with Vermont Information Technology Leaders, Inc. (VITL) to deliver their secure texting system to Vermont health care providers and patients. Find out more.
Finally, last month VCET portfolio company Pwnie Express welcomed a new CTO, Artur Adib. Artur is a former VCET member and will undoubtedly prove a valuable addition to Pwnie. See what he has to say on the announcement here.
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Mark your calendars for the Vermont Code Camp on Saturday, September 17 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. Click here to register (for free!) and for more information.