Why I didn’t go to SXSW

I’ve been to SXSW for the past few years and spoken there a few times too. This year, I didn’t go. 

I’m a doctor. As a resident, I solved real problems. Kids were sick, hurt, and/or dying— I fixed them. They got better and returned to their normal existence. I did all of this in person in the clinic or in the hospital. It was about as meaningful as meaningful gets. 

This was 2002 to 2007. The internet and all of the problems it was solving was in full swing. I witnessed the revolution. I started my first practice as a direct result. I knew there was something interesting that could happen if you marry an old school house call practice with all these “new” forms of communication like email, skype, and SMS. They were mainstream amongst normal people. But I was a doctor using email. What I did wasn’t groundbreaking or revolutionary at all— it just made sense. The only thing groundbreaking was that I did it. That’s it. I’m no genius. I’ve just got balls. And I became part of the hype.

That being said, since then, I’ve witnessed hundreds and hundreds of people and startups trying to revolutionize health and healthcare on the internet. They’ve promised that social media will revolutionize the concept of the patient. Or quantifying yourself will make you a whole new healthier and happier person because you’ve now got endless streams of Nike Fuel data. Needless to say, 99.9% of them have failed or will fail because they can’t figure out how to make money and/or fundamentally don’t understand how people comprehend their own health. I’ll dive into the reasons why in another post. But SXSW is overrun with social media types. Social media has so little to do with healthcare, it’s almost laughable.

But the reality is the big health revolution that’s happened on the internet is liberation of health information. We can all google our symptoms and the diagnosis will be on the first page of search results 80% of the time and 95% of the time on the second page. The real health revolution has been the google search. But then what do you do with that diagnosis?

Most likely, you need a doctor to help you through it. But no internet company has successfully connected you with a doctor who can help you in person. It’s mainly due to business model issues and the cost of putting a doctor on the other end. But it’s also because you need a doctor who’s geographically close to you. And there are only a tiny fraction of companies who have nailed the business model of the hyperlocal space. Yelp, although it’s never been profitable. Foursquare, although time will tell if they’re profitable. I have high hopes for them. I’m a big fan of anything that helps me explore the world better.

Now, combine this failure in the health space with the fact that the companies all vying to be SXSW darlings don’t solve real problems. The next instagram? Correct me if I’m wrong, but how can you have the next instagram when instagram isn’t even a real business? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for art and its relevance to a culture.

But I’m into creating real businesses that generate real revenue and solve real problems. I want to use ancient technologies like email and phones and put local doctors on the other end to solve real problems. People get sick or hurt and don’t know what to do. Ninety percent of people in my demographic do not have an accessible primary care doctor. And 30 to 40% of them have a chronic illness like asthma, anxiety, or depression. They also disproportionately injure themselves because they’re young and active. But I know that 70% of all office visits are unnecessary if you have a doctor you can call who will then do everything they can to help you solve that problem either virtually or in-person. That’s why we’ve built Sherpaa

Nobody has built a business like this, mostly because they’ve gotten the business model and the brand wrong and misunderstood how people interact with their own health.

But Sherpaa brings in real revenue from Day 1 and solves real problems. It’s a company that could not exist without the internet. And it’s a company that isn’t super sexy to talk about. It’s healthcare. It’s no fun at all. Nobody likes being sick or hurt. It isn’t ever going to be the next big media darling at SXSW. But, it’s a company that, when you’re either sick or hurt and don’t know what to do, becomes invaluable and the most sexy internet company you can imagine. It has nothing to do with social media. In fact, I’ve deliberately not created a twitter account or facebook page for Sherpaa. But I’ve sure as hell given out our phone number and email address to each and every person who’s a member of Sherpaa and made sure they have our number on speed dial. Sometimes you’ve got to step back, gain some perspective, get over hyped up “revolutions,” realize the problem has been solved with decades old technology, combine that old school technology in new ways, and make a real business out of a wonderful concept that solves real problems. 

SXSW was important back in the day when real problems were still being solved by the internet. Now that the internet has solved the vast majority of real honest to god problems we humans have, it’s floundering. And I just don’t have the time nor the interest.