We talked to David Weekly on how Medcorder helps patients to keep their inner circle in the loop.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
David Weekly: We are doing well! Due to worsening commute times in the Bay Area, we had actually already mostly set up our house for remote work, so it was not a huge change to my day-to-day to switch to all-remote. The company headquarters is literally out of my Silicon Valley garage. Sometimes it’s fun to live the trope. My wife Rebecca just made Forbes’ 40-under-40 and is helping lead cloud planning strategy at Intel. One nice perk of the shutdown is that she’s not on the road anymore, so our family is getting a lot more time together. My two boys Maxwell and Cyrus, are thriving; they go to an outdoor “forest school” in the mornings and then do Zoom tutoring sessions in the afternoons, interspersed with jumping on the treadmill in the backyard.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Medcorder.
David Weekly: I’ve been programming since I was five; my dad’s dad’s job title was “computer,” so I like to joke I’m a quarter computer. I went to Stanford for my CS degree, then started two companies; sold the second to Facebook, helped kick off internet.org, and then got poached by Google to create a new research & development team to get people online.
While all that was happening, my mom got lung cancer and quickly passed, then my brother got brain cancer, and then my dad got prostate cancer and passed in 2018. It was brutal. One thing I saw through all of this that really surprised me was how much rich and nuanced information doctors would share orally in the consult. Information that never made it into after visit summaries or the medical record. The only way to get the full benefit of what the doctor was telling you was to either bring someone with you who took unbelievably good notes or to get permission to record. So that’s what we did with my dad. I was 3000 miles away, but it was incredibly helpful to be able to listen to his oncologist explaining the latest test results. My dad would email me the recording as an attachment, and I’d listen to the whole thing and write up a transcript in summary while linking out to key medical terms and then email the rest of the family. The workflow was very effective for keeping the family on the same page but was also a lot of work. It became clear that most patients and families didn’t have a workflow like that, but should.
So I started designing Medcorder as a mobile application that anyone could use to record, transcribe, share, and discuss a complex medical situation with family members. I got permission from Google to work on this on the side because it was very different than my day job. After putting together an initial engineering prototype and launching it in the App Store, my aunt Terry was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and her family started using Medcorder to coordinate patient care. The fact that she and the family could find it useful even when it was so poorly developed and crashing all of the time give me a clear signal that this was something that ought to exist. So in January of 2019, I quit my job at Google to sit in my garage and build Medcorder. I pulled together a team and funding, and we were off to the races building apps to help patients understand their doctor. Aunt Terry continued to use the app to record her visits and has seen a full recovery, which is just lovely.
How does Medcorder innovate?
David Weekly: Our company is innovating by pushing a new behavior of recording medical consultations. There are over 40 years of clinical research showing what an incredibly good idea it is to have your patients go home with a recording in hand, but only about four percent of Americans walk away from a meeting with their doctor with a recording today. That’s in sharp contrast with the nearly 70% of Americans who wish that they had a recording of their most recent appointment. The recording is good for patients, good for families, and good for doctors alike. So we’re helping to give patients and their families the right tool for the job, one that treats communication with family as a first-class citizen, so everyone can hear exactly what the doctor had to say without playing “telephone.”
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
David Weekly: To be honest, we took a big hit when the first wave came. For an application designed to help patients record their meetings with doctors, things don’t go so well when patients just stop meeting with doctors altogether, which is basically what happened mid-March. 70% of US consults just vanished. There was definitely some shift to telemedicine, but mostly these visits just stopped happening. This is really scary for people because their cancers continue to progress, folks continue to get heart attacks and strokes, and so forth, but people were just not getting medical treatment. So it has been a rough spot, but we’ve started seeing people come back starting in June, possibly in part due to hospitals adopting clear and safe COVID protocols.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
David Weekly: Very difficult. When we saw the sharp contraction in usage and the overall financing climate getting very timid, we made the hard decision to pull in our belts and reduce capital expenditure. I had to let a lot of good people go, and I’m paying myself about half the poverty line for the Bay Area. We’ve shifted focus from product development to our business’s development over the last few months, and it’s been very positive. It’s a helpful reality check that even in the early stages, cash can be king, and it’s important to get ahead on revenue growth and not just count on the venture.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Medcorder in the future?
David Weekly: Good sleep is half the battle. I’m not even kidding. Once you’ve raised young kids, you realize that if you have poorly slept, everything is a disaster, and if you have had a good sleep, you can do anything. Being able to hug my kids, breathe fresh air, and be grateful for all of the wonderful things in life has really helped in the darker moments when things aren’t going well. In Silicon Valley, it’s both exciting and terrifying that the bar for success is systematically so high – and keeps rising. Years ago, it was considered a wild success if your company sold for $100 million. Then it was that you had created a “unicorn” worth $1 billion. Now, if you aren’t traded at well north of $10bn, you haven’t done much with your life. It’s pretty hilarious when you take an arm’s length perspective on things, but it’s also a helpful reminder that such an enormous impact is possible for even a small team.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
David Weekly: I wish there were more people focused on empowering patients with recordings. In a weird way, it makes me sad that we have to exist as a market competitor. I never had any particular interest in getting into the medical space and don’t have any formal medical training. But there’s a giant hole in this space of patient-directed recordings. There’s one meaningful competitor, a good team of doctors and machine learning specialists in Pittsburgh that launched after we did, but it makes me happy that they are out there pushing this mission as well.
As for where we are looking to go, it’s to evolve from being a useful tool to being an advocate in your pocket. With our algorithms able to better discern what is going on with a patient based on their consultation, we will be able to help connect the patient and family with relevant resources, like communities of patients with the same condition, clinical trials that they may be eligible for, and useful content about their condition. It has been great to learn from expert human advocates at our partner UCSF’s Patient Support Corps and reflect on ways that we could give all patients with our app that kind of thoughtful assistance navigating a hard situation.
Your final thoughts?
David Weekly: It’s been a bumpy journey, as is true of nearly all startups, but it feels really good to wake up in the morning and know that we are putting something out there to help tens of thousands of patients across the United States. Patients deserve to understand their doctors, and we are happy to help them get what they need to do this.