In Silicon Valley, a good friend
can suddenly become your
the clinical impact of its data, we’re still trying
to connect with our users as consumers. If it’s
the same spectrum, we’re on opposite ends.
These distinctions have made it easy for me
to stay in touch with the Heywoods. They’ve
been generous with advice and guidance, and
we’ve reciprocated with some introductions.
But I was reminded recently that shifting from
writing about entrepreneurs to being one can
turn friends into frenemies fast.
In mid-February, PatientsLikeMe announced
a partnership to share its community insights
with a major retailer. It was a deal we at Iodine
were considering pursuing. I realized that, for all
our differences and distinctions, both companies
have an appetite for the same sort of pie. Kudos
to PatientsLikeMe, but nuts to us.
In fact, I am friends with or an acquaintance of
founders at several companies in various stages
of startup-hood that could be considered competition: Health Tap, Mango Health, Smart Patients.
I greatly respect these entrepreneurs and what
they’re building. I’m also watching them closely
and trying to learn from their successes and mistakes. I expect they’re watching us too.
Of course, it’s not unusual to have relation-
ships, even friendships, with rival entrepreneurs.
Google’s Eric Schmidt was chummy enough with
the founders of Apple to be on its board, until
their competing enterprises made the relation-
ship too close. And whether in Silicon Valley or
Detroit, industries have been built on friendly (and sometimes formerly friendly) competitors
finding their niche alongside, and sometimes at the expense of, erstwhile chums. The trick, it
seems, is to help when you can, learn what you can, and know when business means business.
But the experience has been novel for me, and I’ve learned that the best way to navigate any
awkwardness is to just own it. So I made sure to give Ben Heywood a call and congratulate him
when the retailer deal was announced—and then asked his advice on landing our own partnership with another player. The deal PatientsLikeMe made creates a better marketplace for both
of our products—and as soon as I read word of it, I sent emails to a range of potential partners
suggesting they strike back at the competition and make a similar deal with us.
As far as Ben is concerned, Iodine has a lot of learning to do—and mistakes to make—before
we’re in the same league as his company. After all, it’s been around for nearly a decade, while
we’re fresh out of the gate. “I like that you think we’re competing,” he chuckled. I laughed
along. And, yeah, maybe he’s right. For now.
BACK IN 2008, in my pre-entrepreneurial days as a journalist, I wrote about a cool new company called PatientsLikeMe. The founders, Ben and Jamie Heywood and Jeff Cole, hit on the idea of crowdsourcing patients’ experiences with various diseases to gain insights about which medical treat- ments work best and why. Fast-forward to 2015. I am now the founder of Iodine, a company that’s tapping people’s experiences with various conditions and medications to gain insights about which treatments work best and why. Sound familiar?
In truth, there are significant differences between what PatientsLikeMe—which is flourishing—does and what Iodine does. For one thing,
PatientsLikeMe demands dedication, asking its members to share their
stories in great detail, down to the milligram of dosing. At Iodine, on the
other hand, we ask people to contribute in quick, lightweight surveys.
And while PatientsLikeMe is making prodigious progress demonstrating
Thomas Goetz is co-founder
and CEO of Iodine, a digital
health startup based in
San Francisco. He is also author
of the book The Remedy.
Follow him on Twitter: @tgoetz.
42 - INC. - MAY 2015