One of the world’s greatest killers is diabetes, with hundreds of millions of people suffering from the disease globally. Increasingly inactive lifestyles and unhealthy food consumption mean it’s a number that’s climbing. Treating the disease is often a time-consuming and arduous process, involving insulin injections, food monitoring and a tight schedule.
The founders of diabetes management app mySugr, half of whom have diabetes themselves, know all too well how disheartening it can be to try to manage the disease. That’s why they’re especially motivated to improve the situation for sufferers and bring some enjoyment into the treatment process via their app. We caught up with cofounder Frank Westermann who told us why they’re creating the product for themselves as much us for others and how they’ve been taking the US by storm…
Hi Frank, can you tell me a bit about what mySugr is?
Hi, mySugr is a diabetes service company based in beautiful Vienna, we have another branch in San Francisco. With our apps – mySugr companion and mySugr Junior, we offer mobile health solutions to make the treatment of diabetes easier and more fun.
How’d you come up with the idea?
Our vision is to transform the treatment of diabetes into something positive and make the day-to-day life of diabetic sufferers easier. Too often negative motivation and scare tactics are used when treating diabetes, which leads to sufferers having a negative view of the illness. Many diabetics are just missing stamina, positive feedback and motivation to improve the treatment process. With our products, we want to provide this motivation and give diabetics some fun and joy in their treatment.
Who are the founders and what did you do before?
Our founding team is made up of four people: Myself and Frederik Debong, we are both diabetics, along with Gerald Stangl and Michael Forisch. Before mySugr, I was the head of product management at moreTV Broadcasting, Gerald was a self-employed communication designer, Michael was the project manager at Skill3D and Frederik built up Start Europe, the predecessor of Pioneers.io, while he was still studying.
I had the initial idea of mySugr and it came up because I wasn’t happy with my attitude towards my diabetes. I knew I could improve my attitude if I could somehow motivate myself to write my treatment data up – without this data, you’re missing the base to optimise your therapy.
Through Gerald, who I’d been working with for a few years, I got to know Frederik. Not only is he diabetic, but he also happened to have the perfect solution to a lack of motivation: he thought that by gamifying therapy, people would find some fun in their treatment. When Michael came to the team, it’s was like he was the missing piece of the puzzle – with him, our team was complete.
What’s your USP and how are you different from everyone else?
Medical innovations, like new medicines or operations and treatment methods, were traditionally developed by doctors and the pharmaceutical industry and then launched in the market. Mobile health is the first time medical innovation is being driven on the market by patients. Patients download the app themselves, use it, go to the doctor with the data and, by doing that, change the innovation cycle around.
The majority of people in our team are diabetics themselves and are therefore exactly the people who use mobile health products and push innovation. Because we all use these kinds of apps ourselves to treat our diabetes, when we use our own products we notice the difference and can tell they’ve been developed by diabetics. We each have our own views on treatment and let our personal experiences influence the product development.
We also take the medical regulations very seriously. In Europe, we are classified as a medicine product in risk class 1, in the USA we’re registered with the FDA and we’re certified as business ISO13485. This classification allows us to interpret treatment data and could mean that, for example, in the future we’d be able to communicate directly via a blood sugar measuring device.
What’s your business model and how big is the market potential?
We are constantly building up the products and services we offer – at the moment, we are focused on marketing our first product, the mySugr Companion App. It is available as a free version or as the Companion Pro Version, which costs €39 per year.
Also, we allow businesses which offer products for diabetes treatment to sponsor the app. In Austria, for example, we partnered with Sanofi and together launched the Sanofi Health Challenge. Winners of the challenge receive a Companion Pro subscription for free.
Sadly, our market potential is terrifyingly large. In Germany alone there are about six million diabetics (worldwide there are 366 million) and studies show that almost 20 per cent of the entire health spending in Germany goes to treating diabetes and its secondary diseases.
Have you received financing?
We are funded by our revenues and by the support of our investors, super angel Johann Hansmann and the Austrian Förderbank AWS.
Is there something you’re still missing?
We did outgrow our offices as our staff grew incredibly over the past few months and our coworking space in Sektor5 was definitely too small for us. But this month, we’re moving with our friends and development partners from 9Yards to a larger office.
As for hiring plans, we’re alway looking for motivated, tech-savvy diabetics (Type 1 or Type 2) who are keen for a new business challenge or an internship. And as a young business, the matter of money is always there, but we’re not actively seeking more financing at the moment.
Do you have a role model?
There are always the usual suspects, but after two years as a founder I have to say that I now admire anyone who has managed to build up a successful business. Regardless of whether it’s an internet startup or a fast-food chain. It’s always a huge challenge.
Where will you be in a year’s time?
At the moment, we have 55,000 users, 35,000 of which we won in the last few months. In the next few months we will launch new apps and services and hopefully the growth rate will continue. My goal is to have over 500,000 users in a year’s time.
Aside from that, we want to strengthen our growth in the US. Four months ago, we started a branch in San Francisco and launched our apps successfully in July. The US will definitely be our major growth area in the next year.
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