“You can’t hammer a nail over the internet. You can’t be a butcher over the internet. You can’t be a barber over the internet. And you can’t be a bike mechanic over the internet.”

Watch this video. It’s awesome.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking with some amazing VCs as we’re raising money for Sherpaa. Many of these VCs focus primarily on internet companies and invest in companies like Tumblr, Twitter, Foursquare, and Kickstarter. That’s what they do. And that’s what they’re comfortable with. 

The big questions from them have been:

  • How does Sherpaa scale?
  • How does your technology enable a network that gains value over time?
  • What is your sales process?

Sherpaa is a real human service. When companies sign up with us, we personally meet each employee and talk to them about their health. If we feel they need an allergist, we’ll introduce them to our favorite allergist in NYC. If they need a therapist, we’ll introduce them to the therapist we feel will connect with them best. And, then, when something acute rises, like a cut finger or an appendicitis, they simply call us and we arrange a quick and efficient plan to get their problem solved. We can text our surgeon and tell them we’re sending a patient over with a possible appendicitis. We can text our plastic surgeon and ask him to swing by tumblr and stitch up a cut finger. We can do this because we’ve built a network of local health professionals who simply want to do things better. And they also know that technology enables that something better.

Sherpaa is human-powered, high-touch, and enabled by the internet. Without the internet, without messaging, without SMS, without the phone– well, we wouldn’t exist. A new way of organizing, communicating, and delivering healthcare wouldn’t exist. But it just simply makes sense because, well, we can. We build up networks of healthcare professionals, empower them with technology, and give both our doctors and our patients a remarkably better experience. 

The opportunity here lies in the fact that you need very few health professionals to treat a very large population. For example, you need probably 100 doctors from the various specialties to treat 150,000 people. Think of a small town and then think about how many doctors are in that town. Not that many. 

But the challenge for patients, when they need healthcare, is finding exactly who and what they need when they need it. The network isn’t organized around them and it’s surely not made clear for them. But what would happen, if in the middle of NYC and every other major metropolitan area in the US, there was this network of totally plugged in group of 100 doctors who like technology and who want to deliver more organized and more communicative care? They’re simply on a mission to do things better. It would be a small network, extremely valuable, and enabled and empowered by internet technologies. Why would this network be so valuable?

  • It enables a fundamentally better experience to those 150,000 people
  • The more data we have about this network, the better we can improve outcomes
  • Health in that population can be fundamentally redefined and tech enabled
  • The amount of money that flows in and out of the network is hundreds of millions of dollars every year

I would not want to be a VC right now who focuses exclusively on the internet. Every year, SXSW had some breakout companies. This year, the breakout company was Homeless Hotspots. The greatest, and most innovative country in the world had one year to make a SXSW media darling. And we didn’t. I think that’s because the internet has solved the easily solvable problems. And now we’re left with the difficult ones like healthcare. The future, if you ask me, is finding and investing in those real companies who are empowered by the internet to fundamentally do a difficult problem differently. Watching this video made me think how special being a doctor is. We get to know people and help them grapple with real and significant issues. Technology can help us do that and completely revolutionize how people get care. But it will not fundamentally change the fact that doctors are special and we sometimes need the human touch– in person but sometimes just a simple email. It’s very similar to this architect turned bike builder. We can leverage the internet to make the experience of building a bike fundamentally more clear and fundamentally better. But in the end, you can’t hammer a nail over the internet. Health will not be revolutionized by technology. But technology will revolutionize the health experience. And that’s what we’re trying to do with Sherpaa.