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!