Tag Archives: myprojects

Healthcare startup for seniors

This is a story of my 2013 side project to care for our aging parents. It involved several failed attempts to get into accelerators/incubators and ultimately a letter of intent (LOI) from the biggest health insurance provider in the country.

It all started at Tech for Good | Startup Weekend at Hub Ventures (now, Better Ventures) in San Francisco. That’s where I met Evin. Evin is not your typical young techie fresh out of school. He has kids that are in college and parents well past their prime. He’s the marketing brains, and I’m the tech guy–developer and designer.

We started talking about the burden on families when an aging parent has an incident and loses the ability to cary on as usual–in industry parlance, this is called loss of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). I remember my mom was basically working a second full-time job to take care of my grandmother in the last several years of her life. From groceries to appointments to managing finances, it’s a time consuming endeavor being a caregiver.

Caregiver agencies are in business to relive this role from friends and family. Unfortunately, they leave a lot to be desired. For one, you don’t know who the agency will send out to help. For instance, I know a lady that went through dozens of professional caregivers at these agencies in order to find one that had the competency and personality to get along with her Alzheimer’s mother. She ended up having to quit her job and move in with her mother because she wasn’t able to find a caregiver in time.

It’s not necessarily the caregiver’s fault that there isn’t compatibility. The agency shields the caregivers from those seeking their service. Professional caregivers, who are often highly trained with a B.S. or M.S. in social work, barely get paid minimum wage while the agency bills them out at a much higher rate. It’s all part of their traditional, offline business.

In summary, friends and family are struggling to find competent people to care for their loved ones. Professional caregivers who are there to help get screwed by the middle man. Meanwhile, the agencies keep making money because people are desperate for the caregivers’ services.  Doesn’t this sound like an industry ripe for disruption?!

It didn’t make sense to Evin and I, in the age of TaskRabbit, that we couldn’t quickly and easily get help for our parents. For instance, maybe they need a ride to the grocery store, help with the yard, or just switching out a light bulb. Given our parents don’t often live nearby, it can become a huge time sink to help with such ordinary tasks. TaskRabbit isn’t designed for seniors or families trying to get help for their aging parent. (You don’t want to send some stranger over to your mother’s house, especially if she’s not well.) However TaskRabbit did supply the inspiration: you could see reviews of the TaskRabbits and you could book services online quickly and easily.

So SeniorServe (later renamed to EngageCare) was born. After talking to people over the weekend we decided it was better to design this tech solution to friends and family caregivers instead of the aging senior.  We won second place at Tech for Good/Startup Weekend, $1,000 in FB ad credits, 3 months of co-working space at The Hub, and we were a finalist for Hub Ventures’s incubator program.

We created the following presentation, but didn’t get invited for the incubator program.

Finalist PPT with Wireframes

A month later we had more success at a weekend hackathon known as the Health and Technology Code-a-thon. By tapping into TaskRabbit’s API (and with the following presentation), we won first place, including $5,000 and a booth at the 2013 Health Technology Conference.

Now that we had some momentum we looked for ways to focus on this full time. We applied at RockHealth (early 2013 ) and Tumml (see application), without success. Finally, we caught a break by attending an event through Prebacked.

Prebacked is an interesting kind of incubator/accelerator in that they start with the customer. The customer presents their problem(s) and work with teams (like Evin and I) to create a solution. In our case, they brought in a Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) from the midwest to tap into the young talent of Silicon Valley. Three teams would be selected after one week. In our first of two weekends with them, they moved around from team to team where we listened to their problems and iterated on solutions.

I have to say that listening to these guys, and reading between the lines, was a bewildering experience at first. As business leaders, technology leaders, and even doctors within the organization came by to talk to our team, we had to deal with what was often contradictory advice. By the end of the weekend, we realized they didn’t really care so much for the senior services we were providing–though some could relate on a personal level. They didn’t even care about saving BCBS money. However, they were interested in the more broader problem of taking care of discharged patients so that they adhere to medication and generally take care of themselves so that they aren’t readmitted and have healthier outcomes.

In the following week we crafted our demo and pitched them. Of the roughly fifty teams, three were selected to move forward with a letter-of-intent (LOI). We were one of the three (team 19). With this LOI came a $25k check to work with them over the next 90 days to create a solution that we could pitch to the higher-ups for a longer-term contract.

During the next few months, we had weekly meetings with Prebacked and BCBS, we changed names from SeniorServe to EngageCare (to remove the senior focus and sound more enterprise-y ), and we iterated on our proposal. We learned they had an internal case manager that communicated with patients who could potentially tie into our product at some point–a valuable product addition from our vantage point.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest let downs from this co-designing of our product was that we didn’t get a lot of feedback from BCBS on our weekly phone conferences. In retrospect, I realized this is likely due to a lack of Creative Confidence from representatives of such a conservative industry.

On the last day of September 2013, BCBS paid for one member of each team to present to 8 VPs and the CTO. Evin presented for our team. Sign up for wellmarkhome.com to have a look at the demo. It’s a responsive web site (desktop, tablet, and mobile) built with Ruby on Rails v4 and Bootstrap v2.3 and served from Heroku. I initially started coding it with Node.js and Backbone.js, but Rails lends itself to faster prototyping using the built-in gems.

Interestingly, this was the first time the execs had been in a meeting together like this; the $6 billion company normally operates in walled silos. Each team presented for 25 minutes with Q&A. The response was about 2/3 positive and the other 1/3 saw risk. Risks were HIPAA, brand/name risk, and engaging in the uncontrolled world of social/Facebook-style communication. The positive side saw brand and customer engagement at a time of need at virtually no cost with “free” social care support of friends and family. Most importantly, it created strategic customer value for BCBS.

The CIO missed our presentation but was one of the more enthusiastic supporters of our work, so the tentative plan was to come back later and present to him. Though there has been a lot of talk since this event, we’ve yet to move forward with BCBS.

In the meantime, we went to another hackathon. This time it was an event put on by Novartis for Congested Heart Failure (CHF) to “create a mobile solution that helps caregivers of loved ones affected by Heart Failure regain control over their lives and provide more effective daily care.” We designed an app for a family member (caregiver) managing their dad’s heart failure, as you can see below.

It was a competitive event, and this time we didn’t make it to the finals. I uploaded the code in case you want to open it up on an iPhone 5 simulator to have a look. I used Bootstrap v3 to speed up the prototyping.

We put in another application (below) to RockHealth late in 2013.

After a year of ups and downs, we’re taking a break for now.

Lessons Learned

You have to start with the customer. It’s not the first time I’ve learned this lesson. There were reasonable excuses. Other similar services in the marketplace have failed to take off. Evin thought we needed a distribution partner in order to get our product in the hands of the user. It might of worked, but ultimately I think you need to understand your end user via the lean startup approach, as explained by Yammer, before even going after the big guys.

I felt there was a good balance of strengths for co-founders. Evin was a great networker. Watching him take notes at events was like watching an A+ student in class. He did his homework and thought through issues. In past startup ventures, I’ve felt like I was doing a disproportionate amount of work because I’m the tech guy who has to build (and often design) the entire solution. In this case, I thought Evin was an excellent compliment to my skills by uncovering opportunities by attending events and networking.

I learned more about what it means to design for the customer. Even though I was insistent about an MVP from the beginning, I struggled with what exactly that meant for us. We did ultimately talk to 100 potential users, which resulted in a top 10 list of features. However, I think this may have been biased to what we were already developing given they occurred in parallel in order to meet the deadline by BCBS.

A more sensible approach might have been a wireframe or sketch of how we saw the top 2 or 3 features working and then taken it back to the user for validation. In fact, we would have probably learned more by creating multiple versions of a single feature and iterated on that alone.

Even after a year on this project, I think for this project to still have legs we would need to essentially start from scratch. When one imagines a product for the enterprise/payer (BCBS, for example), providers (hospitals, for example), and patients, i.e. seniors, there are too many disparate parties to please. It’s great to have that as a vision. For a product, however, I think it’s the reverse. Like a sculptor with a slab of marble, I think a product needs to chip away at the vision until they have a product with the absolute bare essentials–an entry point into the marketplace.

If we pick this back up after a break, we’re starting with the human.


(copyright IDEO for the venn diagram)


EndAtrocity.com – stop enablers of atrocities

The financing, arming, and coordination of atrocity perpetrators are too-often enabled through the activities of third parties such as multinational companies or financial institutions. And Humanity United and USAid started a tech challenge to address this problem and others related to atrocities. This is my solution….




A system is needed to identify and spotlight enablers of atrocities. The proposed solution is a robust web app that leverages the global reach of the Internet, the numerous form factors of web-enabled devices from mobile to desktop computers, and the latest advances in social networking and telecommunication APIs to allow easy entry of enabler activity that can be shared with friends around the world.



Detailed Description & Rationale

Third-party enablers of crimes against humanity exist because they are either unaware of the consequences of their actions or, if they are aware, lack the public pressure to cause them to stop. Therefore a system is needed to (1) call out the enabling activities and (2) bring public pressure to bear on them. The system I propose is an innovative web app tailored to the needs of those identifying and spotlighting enablers.

In order to identify enabling activities, I propose a simple web interface where anyone can enter an enabler’s action(s) and upload supporting evidence. In order to preserve the anonymity of the individual providing evidence, the web interface will not require a user account or any identifiable information. Instead, the individual can provide a password, which will allow him/her to edit the submission later.

Furthermore, the informant will be able to access the web interface from any Internet enabled device: phone, tablet, e-book, computer, etc. The interface will automatically resize and respond based on the device’s display capabilities. This will allow the person to identify enablers even while on the go—away from a desktop computer. The interface can also be easily internationalized to provide access for non-English speakers. (See endatrocity.com/report-enabler for a prototype.)

To bring public pressure to bear on the enabler, I propose leveraging social media, like Facebook and Twitter. People often feel helpless when they read about the horrible actions of foreign governments. On the contrary, the popularity of social networking has shown people are willing to “like” or “re-tweet” stories of interest. Therefore, by asking friends and followers to spread the word on a good cause, one is able to tap into the viral effects of word of mouth on a global scale. In addition, when stories go viral online, they are often picked up by traditional media (TVs, newspapers, and magazines), which creates a circular loop of more attention back online. By taking advantage of the fact that this all happens online, we are able to track which enabler’s actions were more viral in order to improve the network effects for subsequent stories. (See endatrocity.com/enablers for a prototype.)

The Internet today is prevalent throughout the world and is accessible from mobile devices to desktop computers, which is why it makes it the natural medium for this task. However, informants may not necessary be familiar with computers, which is why alternative methods of submitting information include texting or calling. There are even telecommunication APIs (application programming interfaces) that will automatically process a text or voice message and submit it to the web. It may even turn out that the best way to pick up enabler actions is to monitor twitter for trends related to atrocities. There are algorithms that make this technically feasible.

It’s likely that informants are able to get access to the web (though alternative methods like SMS or phone can also be integrated). It’s also likely that people will want to share the enabler actions with their friends and followers as they currently do for other causes they believe in. Operationally, running a website is inexpensive and proven to be robust enough for sensitive information like banking. A web-based solution directly addresses the problem by providing a broad medium to identify and spotlight enablers. And it makes use of the latest technology by adapting to the capabilities of the device and harnessing the social web.

Proposing a solution to an unsolved problem such as identifying and spotlighting enablers of atrocities means that no one knows for sure what will work. And, as any successful entrepreneur will tell you (e.g., “the lean startup”), figuring out what will work requires feedback and iterations. With that said, I think the best place to start is a responsive web app that works across multiple devices from mobile to desktop computers.



TalkingHome.co – plug and play home automation by talking in your iPhone

Your iPhone can do everything except your laundry, until now… This was our pitch at Startup Weekend in San Francisco this weekend, where we wired up such things as lights, fans, door opening/closing sensors, and motion detectors to demonstrate the power of home automation. See this video below for an idea. (The guy in the video is a friend of Aswath, whom I worked with at Startup Weekend)


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6x1GkgbVP1I?feature=player_detailpage]

If you thought the above video was cool, you should see what we have in store for TalkingHome. This weekend, I created a mobile web app (for iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.) that provides a speech interface (and touch interface) to further enhance the automation experience. And this is just a rough first iteration.

Follow us on Twitter (@TalkingHome) or TalkingHome.co, and stay tuned for our KickStarter campaign!

Bike.ly – a better bicycle map

Check it out on your iPhone: bike.ly

I wasn’t satisfied with the options available for on-the-go cyclists. The iPhone Google Maps doens’t have bike directions (though it may be coming in iOS 6), and the web and native apps all seem to be lacking either good directions or a good interface (or both). I typically end up pulling out a physical map when I need to find a good way to get from point A to point B in San Francisco.

Bike.ly allows you to quickly get highlighted directions on a map from your current location. However, I’ve run into a big problem in that iOS 5.1 (the latest iOS at this time) does not support local storage. In other words, if you save the app to the homescreen, map out the directions, put it back in your pocket, and pull it out again, then the directions will be lost. I’m currently investigating alternatives (seems cookies might work) to make it a better user experience without resorting to PhoneGap. To be continued….


Interactive 3D Tumor

Update: The new version is viewable at CarisTargetNow.com. (There is also an iPad app that this runs in, but it’s not available to the public..)

This is a project I was working at my current employer for about a week and a half. I’m not normally able to share my work, but given this project is being taken in a new direction (read: client didn’t like the design), I’m releasing it as an example of the kind of things I do there. It was designed for an iPad 2, but it needed to work in desktop browsers down to IE7.*

Check it out: http://doorty.github.com/Tumor/silhouette.html

Code: https://github.com/doorty/Tumor

Navigation structure:

1) First you get a silhouette to select one of three different organs. (silhouette.html)

2) You spin a tumor around to select a biomarker of interest. (tumor.html)

3) You look at the inside of the tumor to get more information. (subtumor.html)


* It’s not polished and there are some known holes for which you’ll see alert boxes, but I think you’ll get the idea.

Startup Weekend #SWBay – Kahnoodle

A couple weeks ago, I went to Startup Weekend in San Francisco. If you never heard of Startup Weekend, it’s basically where you try to start a business over the course of a weekend. Our group focused on helping couples–as opposed to the multitude of match.com’s that address singles. We saw the problem as relationships typically start off on a high note and then slowly fade over time without a concerted effort from each partner. Kahnoodle, we envisioned, would make that concerted easy and fun by understanding what each person was looking for on an ongoing basis and relaying that information to their partner. For the kicker, we would throw in game mechanics to make actions of love (or kahnoodles, as we call them) self rewarding.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZQdWAMxAQI]

We did a lot of customer research (as you can see by the video) before actually deciding on what the product should look like. So, as the only programmer in the group of 4, I didn’t get much done on the actual product. My plan was to create a really slick single page, mobile, web app with the likes of Node, Socket.IO, Jade, Backbone, and Stylus (like Sass), but I barely got started before time ran out. You can view the source on github.


But, alas, the weekend is over and the person with the original idea seems to be looking for employees–not founders. So.. on to the next “startup weekend.”

ChirpEcho – Text message alerts for important tweets

ChirpEcho is a “weekend project”–coded in Rails with Tropo for SMS–that will send you a text message whenever a certain twitter user of interest mentions a keyword or phrase that you don’t want to miss. You can see it in development at twitteralert.heroku.com/, and when it’s ready for production it’ll be accessible on ChirpEcho.com.

21310895-tweet 21310897-tweet2

Use Cases:

  • @Target says there is a “sale”
  • your friend says he is going “rock climbing”

I created it because a web entrepreneur that I follow does impromptu video interviews with other entrepreneurs, and he announces it on Twitter only a few minutes before the video interview goes live on uStream. I can’t watch my Twitter stream all day, so I really just needed to be notified when he mentions the word “live.” I figured other people may find this useful.

Pitched.in – a startup for startups

Many entrepreneurs struggle with the very beginning of getting their idea off the ground: perfecting the elevator pitch, finding a co-founder, and getting funded, to name a few. So I created a little viral signup form, for when I have time to build it.

I do have some PSDs already, if someone is interested in helping me:
Beta-Sign-Up Homepage Pitch Sign-Up View-a-Pitch Create-a-Pitch

This was one of my first experiments with Ruby on Rails and Heroku.

  1. Save your email in the database
  2. Assign you a unique url to use to invite to friends (with one-click links for Facebook and Twitter)
  3. Each friend that signs up adds to your referral count
  4. The people with higher referral counts get invited first.

Thanks to Forkly.com signup process for the idea. And if you’re wondering, I also used an open source URL shortener developed in Ruby to use with my short domain, ptch.in.

Improvements: I need to process the signup in the background so there isn’t a delay when you click “Sign Up”. Either Delayed Jobs or Resque would work great.

Update: Turns out there is a Railscast on Beta Invitations. Railscasts is a great website, by the way, for leaning Rails.

Update 2: The guy who owns Pitchedin.com contacted me to say he was working on something similar.

Update 3: Another site has a similar idea; There is a good discussion on Hacker News: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2005034

Update 4: In part due to the previous updates, I’ve decided to put this project on hold–unless someone comes along that wants to help. But I can bet you’ll see a viral signup form for my next project.

Update 5: We solve [problem] by providing [advantage], to help [target] accomplish [target’s goal]We make money by charging [customers] to get [benefit]. More good info from 500 startups blog.





Vendee iPhone App

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Vendee is a fun, local sales application that allows you to find sales around you; from drink specials tonight to half-off bakery items to that dress you’ve been eyeing, Vendee saves you money.

How it works

Vendee allows both mobile phone users and store owners to post specials. All the specials are geolocated and presented to the user based on their current location.

Point System

We incentive users to participate via our point system. Every time a user post a sale, or likes/dislikes a sale, or shares a sale, etc. they are given points. And if your sale is disliked, for instance, by another user then you lose points. These points then transfer to user levels: everyone starts as a “Shoplifter,” then they progress to titles such as “Discounter,” all the way up to the most coveted title of “Vendee.” One of the future plans we are considering is giving users gift certificates to one our participating stores when they reach certain user levels.

How do we make money

We make money by charging stores for premium listings.

What is a premium store listing

We try to give stores’ their money’s worth for posting a sale with us. How? First, there listing gets highlighted in yellow in the sale list. Further, if there are similar user sales, then we embed the store sale at the top of those user sales. On the backend, we also track how many times the sale has been shown, how many times the sale has been clicked, etc. so the store can follow the success of the sale.

Status of Vendee

The app has been in the Apple App Store for about 4 months. So far, my partner on the sales side has yet to come through again to sign up stores (see Gift Registry App), but I still think the app is one of the best in it’s category. So check it out and leave feedback.

Gift Registry iPhone App


Gift Registry App

One of the first apps I created for the iPhone. A mobile app to put all your gift registries in to one place. Your guests can then browse, make purchases, and even mail you the gift, all within the app.

Why is it not in the app store? I want it! 

Unfortunately, my “business guy,” was unable to sign up any stores to connect with their gift registries, so it never made it into the app store. (He’s the guy in the video.) So if you’re a store owner and interested in connecting your registry with us, let me know.