A 5 year update: Our Mission in Practice

You may have seen or read about Kinsa in the news recently - stories featuring us were viewed by more than 30 million people in the last week alone! I won’t lie - it’s fun to get the texts from friends and family that come from this kind of media attention. But what excites me the most is what it means for our mission. In short summary, we are realizing it.

When I started Kinsa on the heels of working in public health, it was with one problem in mind: how can we know where and when illness is starting and spreading so we can stop it before it affects the broader community? I imagined a world in which individuals, families and local communities detect the spread of sickness early -- at the first sign or symptom -- enabling people to take precautions to curb it before it spreads. We would enable a whole host of activities that parents, physicians, and health systems could take that might very well stop the next Zika, Ebola, or flu pandemic.

The goal was to communicate with someone who had just fallen ill, and do that across millions of people, so we could know what symptoms were circulating, how severe the illness is, and see how fast it spreads -- all in real-time. To do this, we reimagined the first product a person turns to when they fall ill -- the thermometer.

As parents (the world’s superusers of thermometers!) most of us don’t care whether a temp reads 102 or 102.5. We care about what that temperature means: What’s going around? Is it severe? Should I be concerned? How do we get better faster? What should I do now and what should I watch out for over the coming hours and days?

The idea was that if we could answer these questions, individuals would want to use our thermometers over standard ones. And if that worked, well then we’d really understand what was going around (not just fever, but also the symptoms an individual enters into our app).

It was an ambitious vision. And a tougher journey than I had expected.


A Series of Baby Steps

First we had to invent a product low cost enough that it could be priced similarly to existing thermometers. We had to develop new hardware and get it cleared by the FDA. We had to find a manufacturer and build out a supply chain capable of producing millions of units. And we had to introduce it to market successfully. Not an easy task since -- as I learned after I started Kinsa -- 19 of 20 new consumer products fail. Next, we had to market it successfully (on a startup budget) to get it into millions of people’s hands, and make sure they didn’t just buy it, they used it! And ONLY THEN… only then, could we test the core hypothesis: can a “connected thermometer” generate the data needed to track illness with enough detail that this would be highly useful to the individuals using the product, and to communities, health systems, and even physicians so they could respond early and effectively?

These tasks involved not only hardware engineers, but software engineers, data scientists, manufacturing engineers, experts with knowledge of FDA, supply chain, marketing and sales.

We also had to create a business model that allowed us to scale up. Selling a $15-20 thermometer isn’t a great business in and of itself so we needed to find a way to monetize the business in order to grow.


Mission in Action

Five years into it, I am thrilled to say: IT’S WORKING! Today, we have well over a million users, with 25,000 temperature readings and even more symptoms streaming in daily. We have shown that our data tracks the CDC’s on influenza-like illness (ILI) (i.e., data taken from doctors offices on flu-like symptoms) to an almost unbelievable degree. For those of you out there who are data geeks like me, the R-squared is >0.96 for the last 3 flu seasons, this one included.

However, we can see our data in real-time -- well before someone sees a doctor (and many of the existing systems (including the CDC) are based on doctors visits) -- and stream in over the course of many weeks. Our data is also more actionable and accurate than mining search queries or social media posts: Kinsa data is a clinical signal (from an FDA-cleared medical device), not a proxy for one. Social media or search queries can be misled by, for example, news coverage.  

As importantly, Kinsa’s data shows the severity of illness, e.g., how many people are exhibiting fevers lasting many days, and how many people are having similar symptoms in a local geography, or even a school. And this is just the tip of the iceberg as we continue to dig into more data science to support our vision and solve the problem we set out to address.


Getting our data out there

In the midst of this terrible flu season, our smart, scrappy team is getting this data out in real time. Our health map and data have been featured on the TODAY show, Good Morning America, CBS this morning,  NBC Nightly News, NPR’s Marketplace, and the New York Times as well as dozens of local stations... in the past week alone.

Look closely at the flu stories on the news right now - like the Inside Edition or TODAY Show clips that featured us earlier this week. You’ll find the latest flu stats and if you squint, you’ll see “Source: Kinsa” in the corners. We are excited that our data is helping to alert local communities where flu is, and where it’s spreading -- acting as an early warning system that hopefully helps people take precautions or get to the doctor faster for those antivirals.


So what’s next?

There are some big “coming soons,” such as the launch of our latest smart thermometer, QuickCare next week. It is a giant, innovative advance from our previous thermometers and we’ll begin selling it (online first) in the next week or two.

More strategically, it’s time to live the mission truly and scale it up. We need to find more and better ways to get our data to the organizations and people who can most benefit from it -- realizing the impact of our early detection, early response system.

It’s also time to take the next step: finding a way to give away our products for free. We already do this on a small scale through our FLUency program at 500 schools around the country, but want to do more. Wouldn’t it be cool to give away a medically essential product -- and I will argue all day and night that our thermometer is way more medically essentially than any other prior thermometer out there -- and scale the company by creating value for the user? For example, by giving them the guidance they need and steering them to high-quality services available the moment they need them, such as telemedicine or urgent care.

As you can see, there’s still plenty to do. I’m confident we’ll get there because of the team we’ve built. I can’t tell you how proud I am to work with this smart, scrappy and strategic group -- awesome people, many of whom took massive pay cuts or made other sacrifices to work long and hard on this mission. It’s marching toward this shared vision with them -- often with a comical number of obstacles in our path -- that makes this all worth it.  We couldn't do any of this without the amazing set of investors without whom Kinsa would not exist. They have supported us through multiple near-death experiences with unwavering support and encouragement. I am incredibly grateful to each and every one of them.


How can you help?

In my humble opinion, we are attacking the single biggest problem in health globally, an issue that affects 5-6 billion people, often multiple times per year. With the early detection and early response system that Kinsa is pioneering, we have a shot at stopping the next pandemic, and potentially even stropping the large-scale spread of contagious illness altogether in our children’s lifetimes -- but only if more people to use our products, and we scale this globally.

So I need your help to scale it: to grow our users so we can have the kind of impact we all want. Please tell others about Kinsa, and purchase our smart thermometers as gifts for those who can benefit. And please put me in touch with the best people with whom you have worked, especially if you know they’d be excited to work on advancing Kinsa’s mission. We need great people to succeed. Finally, please just keep doing what you’re doing. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your ongoing and unwavering support. Thank you. Now back to work!

Talking Zika, Olympics and Tech on The Wall Street Journal

This week, I appeared on The Wall Street Journal's podcast, Tech Talk, to discuss Kinsa's initiative aimed at helping athletes combat Zika and other illnesses this summer with Kinsa Smart Thermometers.

Zika is fairly ill-understood in regards to the symptoms. So if you're traveling to Rio and you do happen to become ill, having Kinsa to keep a record of your health history can be extremely helpful both for you and for the wider community. In the event that you receive a Zika diagnosis, we'll have more information to look back on to understand better what Zika does and you'll have more information to provide a doctor so you can receive a better diagnosis.

We have a program right now through which we're offering Kinsa thermometers to athletes in their families traveling to Rio. We currently have 6 teams and several individuals who are equipped with thermometers, and we've created an Athletes' Village Group on the Kinsa app to help them see what's going around and communicate with one another to stop illnesses from spreading locally.

Hear the full podcast here.

Why I'm Inspired to Chase Disease

Many of you might not know this, but my initial aspirations had to do with space travel. In fact, I was on track to go to medical school to study aerospace medicine. However, when I started a community service organization in college that supported children who were going through physical rehabilitation, and I saw the look in their eyes and the eyes of their families, I knew I wanted to see that look again.

I eventually decided to move to Silicon Valley instead to build organizations that impacted people's lives - like Kinsa. 

My friends at FirstMark Capital recently published this interview with me on their Medium Page. Take a look at the article below.


Why Kinsa CEO Inder Singh is Inspired to Chase Disease

Inder Singh has intensely studied what it takes for a human to travel to space. In fact, he’s spent a significant portion of his life training for a potential space mission.

However, along the way he learned that his fascination wasn’t necessarily with space, rather the mission. That’s very much what led him to found Kinsa, a company on an ambitious mission to track, treat, and stop the spread of illness.

Kinsa CEO Inder Singh

Kinsa CEO Inder Singh

We recently sat down to chat with Inder about his path to becoming a CEO and what led him to diverge from his trek to the moon, while remaining intensely mission-driven.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an astronaut.

Every single thing I did until I was 20 was dedicated to that dream. I learned to fly planes at 15, became a scuba diver, went to space academy, competed in every science and engineering fair possible, went to the University of Michigan because three astronauts who landed on the moon went to Michigan, worked in the space physics lab…everything. Everything I did was related to becoming an astronaut.

Then I had an experience that changed my life.

I started a small community service organization that supported children going through extensive physical rehabilitation. The look in the eyes of those kids and their families changed me.

I was supposed to go to med school to study aerospace medicine. My essay was all about space medicine. I deferred and eventually declined and went to [Silicon Valley] instead. I wanted to build organizations that impact people’s lives.

That’s why I founded Kinsa.

Where do you find inspiration?

I need to surround myself with people that are equally committed and that’s where I draw inspiration. I can be really, really lazy. Anyone who knows me would never guess that, but I’ve found tricks for keeping me motivated.

One, I have to work in a mission-driven organization. When there’s a bigger opportunity to have an impact, that’s so motivating to me. I love building that shared vision with a team.

Second, I think back. There’s one particular story that I always remember whenever I need to get a little extra motivation. There was a four-year-old girl whose heart stopped beating for 41 seconds. When she was revived, she couldn’t move anything except for her eyes. Over the next four years, she had to re-learn how to speak, re-learn how to walk. And, for those first couple weeks, she literally couldn’t move. I remember her parents on stage telling this story at the first event for my service organization. I remember hearing them and feeling this tug on my pants. I looked down and saw Allison’s 9-year-old, smiling, shining face. That changed my life. And, it’s something that has stayed with me ever since.

The other place I find inspiration is my wife. She has stuck with me through thick and thin. Whenever I get down, I think about how supportive she is.

What would you go back in time and tell yourself?

I have a very high pain tolerance for work. People have told me repeatedly that working 15 hours a day, six days a week for over a decade will take its toll psychologically. So, I would go back in time and tell myself to be healthier.

Stay active, because that’s the biggest challenge for me. I don’t think enough about taking care of myself. I wouldn’t just tell myself to be healthier, I would convince myself.

What’s something you had to learn the hard way?

You have to be careful how aggressive you are in imposing views on others. I learned that only over time. There’s a big difference between knowing and doing it. Seeing the consequences of when you’re accidentally too aggressive in saying, doing or going after something is an important lesson.

There’s a balancing act. You have to be careful about which idea you want to stand up for. That’s something I’ve only recently learned.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I think the best advice is trust your gut. When you learn to actually trust your gut it will make a huge difference.

Sometimes the analytics are irrelevant. Sometimes the analysis is irrelevant. Go with your gut.


Speaking at UMCFE's eHour

I recently had the pleasure of returning to Ann Arbor to visit the University of Michigan, this time coming back to tell the story of Kinsa to an eager audience of future entrepreneurs and engineers at the Center for Entrepreneurship as part of their eHour event series.  

It was great to see how far the school has come, and I was equally excited to see how Dance Marathon, the organization I started back in my days at UM, has progressed in the last few years. Take a look at the full presentation to hear about my journey as an entrepreneur, Kinsa's founding story and where we are in 2016.


Designing Digital Health For Impact

I was lucky to have the chance to appear on an episode of Startup Health NOW! last week. During the interview, I express my views on what it's like to start a business with a mission, and only a mission -- no business model, no product. Just a profound desire to make an impact.

Can an impact-driven, for-profit enterprise succeed? My thoughts are in the video.