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- Doxy.me, a little-known startup that provides a video platform that doctors can use to meet with patients, has become a favorite of medical professionals through the course of the pandemic.
- As of June, Doxy.me had about 700,000 users, up from 80,000 in January. They were drawn by the appeal of free accounts for the browser-based video meeting tool that sends links to patients.
- Founded in 2014, the company’s temporarily operating out of CEO Brandon Welch’s house in Charleston, South Carolina.
- It’s going up against telemedicine giants like Teladoc and Amwell, but has no outside funding.
- For more stories like this, sign up here for our healthcare newsletter Dispensed.
The founders of telemedicine startup Doxy.me knew they had a problem by the first week of March.
About 100 doctors signed up for accounts on a Sunday.
“We thought, maybe there’s a conference or something,” Doxy.me CEO Brandon Welch told Business Insider. But that Monday, March 2, 300 physicians signed up.
“That afternoon, I was just like, ‘I think this is related to Covid,'” Welch said.
On Tuesday, another 400 signed up, Welch said. By Wednesday, 700; by Thursday, 1,200 new doctors joined.
“By that Tuesday, we had kind of gone into crisis mode,” Welch said.
Doxy.me (pronounced “doc see me”) takes a few minutes to get up and running from a browser, without downloading software. Accounts are free, unless physicians upgrade to the professional version for $35 per month. Doctors can send links to patients for online chats. Then, they talk. And that’s about it.
The startup is competing against telemedicine companies like Amwell, Doctor on Demand, and publicly-traded Teladoc, which tend to partner with major health systems or insurers. Before the coronavirus pandemic, it could take a doctor as long as 60 to 90 days to get started with a company like Amwell.
Since 2014, Doxy.me had been working mostly with independent doctors or small clinics looking to do mental health or counseling services online. The product’s easy access made it a favorite in the early days of the pandemic, when doctors didn’t have time to wait around for other telemedicine solutions, the company’s founders and doctors who use the platform said. As of June, Doxy.me has about 700,000 users, up from 80,000 in January.
It’s come with some growing pains. Welch and Turner have hired more full-time employees than ever and set up a temporary headquarters to make due — all while drawing more investor interest than they know what to do with. Now, the little-known startup has become a formidable player in an industry that saw massive growth in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
From school project to signing on health systems
Doxy.me got its start as a school project while Welch was a doctoral student at the University of Utah School of Medicine studying biomedical informatics.
Welch wanted to make a video platform for delivering prenatal care to women via video chat. Existing video chatting platforms like Skype and FaceTime wouldn’t cut it because of their lack of HIPAA compliance, university officials told him.
After Welch connected with Dylan Turner, who was working at the university’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science and is now Doxy.me’s chief operations officer, the pair made a prototype that won $3,000 at a business innovation competition. By the time Welch graduated in 2014, they’d racked up $25,000 in grants.
They let the service spread by word of mouth, found a couple of angel investors, and started charging people for Doxy.me. For a while after its inception, though, Welch was still a full-time professor, and Turner was still working at CCTS.
Welch is currently an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, but plans to cut down on hours there in light of Doxy.me’s growth.
“This was just kind of a side thing that was going on,” Welch told Business Insider.
Since the pandemic, the startup has signed on not just individual doctors but large health systems as well.
Doxy.me declined to say how many of its now 700,000 users are paying for premium accounts, but large health systems now constitute more than 25% of the customers. They require “enterprise” accounts (a step up from premium) that cost $50 per month per clinician, according to Welch. Welch declined to name specific health systems.
Initially, Doxy.me wasn’t interested in working with the big healthcare groups, Welch said. Physicians from places like that started signing up in large enough numbers that their administrations were essentially forced to reach out and draw up contracts, according to the cofounder.
“We’re seeing a lot of large enterprises come to us because their providers are already using us. And they’re just trying to formalize an agreement with us,” Welch said.
Growing up overnight
In the early days of the pandemic, Doxy.me struggled to keep up with the growing interest in its platform.
When reports of an uptick in US coronavirus cases came in early March, 8,000 physicians created accounts on March 8 — a number that increased to 32,000 within days, Welch said. Doxy.me was adding more doctors per hour than had joined in the entire month of February.
Welch and Turner got so many calls that they tried to scrub the internet of the company phone number. Then they hired a phone agency to field the avalanche of calls from onboarding customers, Welch said.
Emails and service requests were another matter. Welch’s home in Charleston, South Carolina, turned into a temporary headquarters filled with newly hired employees in customer service, technology, and sales. Within a few weeks, the company went from about 15-20 to more than 50 full-time employees, Turner said.
The team made YouTube videos about how to use the product — canceling all the outstanding demos — and put in place bots that tried to triage customer questions before they got to humans. They also set up more servers, while the website stalled from all the activity.
“We’ve obviously had to grow up overnight into a real company,” Welch said.
Read more: Here’s how 11 top VCs like Andreessen Horowitz and GV are changing their healthcare strategies, from bets on telemedicine to virtual clinical trials.
‘They don’t need all the other crap’
Krishna Yeshwant, managing partner at Alphabet’s GV, who isn’t an investor in Doxy.me, told Business Insider he was impressed with the company after seeing it help many small- and mid-sized providers get online so quickly.
Prior to the pandemic, GV didn’t invest in a company like Doxy.me “because to some degree, without those wraparound services, I’ve always felt like telemedicine is a little bit of a commodity,” he said. “Lots of companies do it. There’s lots of platforms out there.”
Doxy.me’s meteoric rise has some VCs scrambling to invest, the founders said, seemingly throwing a wrench in the argument that, without fancy wraparound services, telehealth products are too “commoditized,” or interchangeable with other companies’ offerings.
Read more: 2 investors at Alphabet’s $4.5 billion venture fund share the 3 healthcare companies outside their portfolio that impress them the most.
In light of its popularity with physicians, health systems are asking Doxy.me to add a few of those bells and whistles, Welch said.
Moving forward, Doxy.me’s enterprise platform is adding a recording feature, a reminder system for patients, single sign-on, chat bots to help collect some data from patients at check-in, and some integration with third-party applications.
Still, Doxy.me’s primary competitor is Zoom, Welch said.
“The only thing providers care about is a way to connect with their patients,” Welch said. “They don’t need all the other crap that other telemedicine solutions are providing. We just keep it simple and made it easy to sign up.”
That’s true at least for Sarah Weller, a clinical exercise physiologist based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She sees about 20 patients per week via Doxy.me, all of whom have cancer, helping them with strength, endurance, and balance after undergoing treatments, she told Business Insider.
Weller’s practice, the Treloar Physio Cancer Exercise Program, plans on using Doxy.me after the pandemic has passed, she said.
“None of my current patients wish to return to in person sessions,” Weller said.
It’s easier for them not to drive, find parking, or leave home, given their fatigue levels, she said.
Doxy.me doesn’t want investors — for now
Welch and Turner get calls and emails from venture capital firms on a daily basis, they said. But having bought out their angel investors in January, they aren’t in a hurry to work with outsiders again.
Though he’s open to revisiting the idea in a couple of months, the concept seems particularly unpleasant for Welch.
“When I think about it, it kind of gives me nausea. Thinking about bringing in other investors. Because we finally got these guys out. And we want to bring in others?” Welch said.
Turner said they could be “convinced” otherwise if the right partner wanted to build a better product in the long-term, he said.
“But what we don’t want to do is find a partner or business investor that isn’t in it for the long game,” Turner said.
Asked whether they’d care to disclose their valuation, the pair laughed.
“I need a VC person telling me that,” Welch quipped. “I have no idea.”
Moving forward, Welch is thinking about stepping back some from his work as a professor, but still has a class slated for the fall.
And the company will encourage its new employees to work out of Salt Lake City, Utah; Charleston, South Carolina; Rochester, New York, London, or Kiev — where longstanding employees currently work. But as a telemedicine company, it’s not opposed to remote work, Welch said.
First, though, Doxy.me needs to get “some legitimate office space,” he said.