CareMonkey has taken its ‘social care network’ international, with the Melbourne-based startup seeking to build its customer base in the United States and Europe.
In a world where social network startups tend to fail more than they flourish, the web-based CareMonkey service now has more than a million people on board. And according to CEO and co-founder Troy Westley, the company continues to pick up momentum.
CareMonkey began not with an idea, but with the search for an idea, the CEO says.
Westley has spent his whole career in the tech sector, beginning in the ’90s with a gig at Oracle. In 2003 he joined Salesforce.com as its first APAC employee, then later moved to Google. By the time he got to his forties, he had “itch feet,” the CEO explains.
“I’d worked for really good companies and done well,” he says. But what he really wanted to do was to come up with his own idea to build a tech business around. He spent years trying to come up with a problem he could solve — in the process, coming up with a lot of “really shitty” ideas.
“The acid test for me was knowing: Would I quit my day job, knowing that at the time I had six kids,” he explains. (He has seven now.)
“Not only do you need to solve a problem worth solving, but you need to solve a problem that people want to pay to fix.”
In the end, it was happenstance that led to the idea that’s grown into CareMonkey. He was working in his home office one day, reached into his filing cabinet and pulled out a piece of paper: The asthma management plan for one of his children.
An asthma plan is designed by a doctor and describes an individual’s symptoms and how to save his or her life if they’re struggling to breathe.
“Here it was, in the filing cabinet,” Westley says. “No-one could see it. It wasn’t shared. And I thought: What a horrible parent I am. Why haven’t I made a thousand copies of this and given it to every single teacher, every sports coach, every family member, every family friend – to the parents of friends who he’s vising.”
He also thought: “Here’s a problem to solve.”
It was easy to share certain types of information on social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn — “but there was no social care network, where you could share very sensitive information with people that you trusted,” he explains.
His market research around the idea, he says, was largely “barbeque surveys”. “What I found was all the parents going, ‘Oh my god how many times do you have to write that stuff out for school?’” he says.
Not only do parents need to share details when enrolling a child, but often when there’s an excursion or school camp, information such as emergency contacts, medical contacts, allergies, asthma plans, medications, and Medicare numbers need to be handed over again.
“All of this sort of stuff was being repeatedly asked for from parents, and they were all sick of it,” Westley says. He also spoke to schools — “They said, ‘Yeah, we’re sick of it as well.’”
Schools couldn’t rely on details they’d collected even a week earlier because something might have changed, with no way to keep the information up to date.
Additionally, the CEO adds, as the father of six kids, at the time he was also doing a lot of coaching.
“I was a basketball coach, I was a lifesaving coach, I was an assistant coach at the footie. What I realised with that, as a parent, I was filling in the same forms at the start of every season, wanting the same medical information. But as the coach, they never gave it to us.
“Sporting clubs collect all of this sensitive information and put it in the filing cabinet. It was exactly the same as my asthma plan at home.”
CareMonkey is designed to make it easy to share sensitive details with trusted organisations. Families can create a ‘care profile’ for an individual that can be shared with relevant people, such as grandparents or a babysitter.
Because the information is centralised, it’s easier to ensure that medical details and contact information are up to date. Organisations, such as a school or sporting club, can then request access to an individual’s information.
The system is free for families and individuals to use, while organisations pay an annual subscription fee.
After Westley had the initial idea for CareMonkey, he bit the bullet and quit his job. At first he took a three-day-a-week position, and later dropped that to focus on his idea full-time.
When he realised he couldn’t do it alone, he set out to find a technical co-founder. He found Martin Howell, now CareMonkey’s chief technical officer.
“It’s been a bloody sensational partnership,” Westley says. (“Mind you, Marty took one look at my code and said ‘Oh my god, we’re going to need to redo all of that’ — which he did,” the CEO adds.)
Like Westley, the future CareMonkey CTO was working on a Ruby on Rails-based project. In Howell’s case, he was building a group management system that would allow clubs to create events and send messages to members.
The two began their collaboration at the start of 2013, and by October 2013 had integrated their two systems. They had their first sale that month — to a school, after their first demo. By Christmas 2013, CareMonkey had signed up around a dozen schools, with 4000-5000 parents on the system.
And those parents started to generate new leads for the startup. Westley says: “They were saying, ‘Hey I just had to fill out this medical information for my child’s school, but I’m the president of the football club, I’m the secretary of the golf club, I’m the treasurer of the swimming club — we need this information as well. Can we use CareMonkey?”
“All of a sudden, we’re in the sports business,” Westley says. And from there it expanded — into the Scouts, church groups, youth groups, disability services organisations, camps and businesses.
“We had built something that solved a problem in multiple marketplaces,” the CEO says.
A care profile could be easily shared with multiple organisations, he explains.
“If you had one profile for your child that you’d shared with a school, now when the footy club asks for it, you don’t have to fill it out again — you just click a button that says, ‘Yep, you can view it as well’,” he says.
“From a parent’s perspective, they weren’t filling out forms for anyone any more. So the more people that got on to it, the more people liked it.”
The platform is web-based. However, there are mobile apps available. The mobile app allows data to be synched on to a smartphone so that it’s accessible in places with no reception.
“Imagine that you are a school teacher and you’re on a school camp and there is no Internet but there’s an emergency. You need to be able to look up little Johnny’s medical details and you see that he’s got asthma and here’s what we need to do.”
The personal data for a class or the group of pupils going on a camp can be downloaded ahead of time. The data is encrypted on the device and protected with a passcode or fingerprint, and it expires after a certain period.
The platform has continued to evolve since launch. Because CareMonkey often stored the most up-to-date version of contact details, organisations sought to use it as a general contact tool; for sending a school newsletter, for example. Email and SMS messaging capabilities were added to the system, and as time passed more form capabilities were added, allowing schools to automate, permission and excursion forms, for example.
“We are an amazing data collection machine and a form-based product that just happens to also be really good at being a medical records database,” Westley says. A school can use it to contact all families or just those of students in a particular grade, class or other grouping, leveraging CareMonkey’s support for groups. Those capabilities are also available from the mobile app.
From the start, the platform has been hosted on Amazon Web Services, the CEO says.
“I’d been at Salesforce.com so I knew that multi-tenanted, hosted apps were the future,” he explains. “I mean, why would you want to go and buy servers and manage IT. You just don’t do that any more.”
A key reason for using AWS from the start was data sovereignty: CareMonkey was able to ensure that data remains within the cloud provider’s Australian data centres.
“Particularly with the medical and other sensitive information that we store, people really worry about the location of the data,” Westley explains. “We needed somebody that was going to have infrastructure in the markets where we operate.”
CareMonkey has leveraged AWS’s global spread to help boost its international ambitions. The startup now has cloud infrastructure in the United States and Ireland, ensuring that data for the US and Europe markets are stored in those jurisdictions.
“We’ve spent most of our time in Australia, as a Melbourne-based startup, building our product, growing it, finding out what people need, turning it into a really solid platform and we’ve done quite well in Australia so far,” Westley says.
“But this year we’re focused on expanding into the UK and USA. We’ve got people there, we’ve got customers there and hopefully, in a year or so, Australia won’t be our biggest market.”