Today, the CDC estimates that there are more than 130 million Americans currently living with a “chronic disease” — in other words, the many types of long-lasting conditions that “can be controlled but not cured.” With Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, arthritis diabetes and heart conditions among the most common (and costly) examples of chronic conditions, sadly, it’s no surprise that this category is responsible for 70 percent of deaths each year in the U.S. and accounts for more than 75 percent of the country’s healthcare costs.
For younger generations, social networks and social networking businesses are old news. It may be hard to believe, but with social network marketshare increasingly dominated by a few gigantic players, many networks remain underserved. As forums and message boards fall out of favor as a result, this has become especially true for a wide range of “niche” communities — like those living chronic conditions, for example.
MyHealthTeams launched in 2011 to provide a platform where those living with (or effected by) chronic conditions can go to quickly find, communicate and connect with others like them. Essentially, MyHealthTeams created a community for communities, or, in the company’s words, a “social network for chronic condition communities,” designed to make it easy for visitors to connect with those who can share their experiences and discover the people best-suited to help and offer advice.
MyHealthTeams’ mission is to makes it easy for people to quickly find and connect with a network of other people who are in a similar position and can understand the challenges faced via its own condition-specific social networks. In addition, members can also easily find referrals of local providers and businesses best suited to help them — and this, presumably, is part of the business model.
The startup’s flagship community, MyAutismTeam, a social network for parents of children with autism, launched in beta in June of 2011 with 35 parents in California. Today, more than 52,000 parents have registered to use the site from all over North America. MyHealthTeams co-founder Eric Peacock attributes this adoption to pent up demand created by the inadequate options available to the chronic disease community.
“Most health sites don’t actually help these people connect with and learn from others who have been in their shoes,” he says, and “the majority feel like they’re trying to “re-invent the wheel.” MyHealthTeams set out to solve that by building social networks for specific chronic conditions that look and feel more like Facebook, Yelp and Quora than your average health website, he says. Since then, the proof has been in the pudding, or in the viral growth and high engagement levels of its users.
The startup recently added two additional social networks, MyBCTeam, which is designed for women diagnosed with breast cancer and MyMSTeam for people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis — the latter of which is both its newest and fastest growing network. For MyHealthTeams, the key to providing a better user experience and increasing engagement across its communities has been staying away from becoming too editorially-driven or basing the entire experience around discussion forums, Peacock says. As a result the percentage of registered members on these social networks who are monthly active users is north of 50 percent.
Since then, MyHealthTeams has been looking to leverage the pent-up demand within the chronic disease community to develop additional social networks to expand its coverage to a wider range of conditions and diseases. To do that, the startup announced today that it has raised $3.36 million in Series A financing led by The Westly Group. The startup’s existing investors, like Adams Street Partners — who led the startup’s $1.75 million seed investment in the summer of 2012 — also participated in the new round, along with 500 Startups, HealthTechCapital, Sand Hill Angels, TEEC and a handful of angel investors.
With the new capital under its belt, Peacock says that MyHealthTeams will be looking to expand its team significantly over the next few months and begin accelerating the rate at which it launches new social networks and communities. The long-term goal, the founder says, is pretty straightforward, if not ambitious:
Five years from now, I want to have launched 100 of these social networks. In the future, if you’re diagnosed with a chronic condition — like 1 in 2 Americans are today — the hope is that it will be your doctor, or another person with the same condition, that will tell you about, or ‘prescribe’ MyHealthTeams’ social network.
While startups in other industries might be concerned with competitors or over-crowding, and MyHealthTeams may feel that way to a certain extent, the truth is that, for those living with or affected by chronic diseases, the more (quality) communities like these, the better. For now, the list remains small, by thanks to companies like Healthy Labs, Alliance Health, HealthKeep and Ben’s Friends, MyHealthTeams isn’t alone.