ZocDoc, a seven-year-old online service that helps users find and book appointments with doctors who accept their insurance, is raising a new, $152 million round of funding that values the company at $1.6 billion.
That kind of momentum might dissuade some competitors, but not Ari Tulla, the founder of BetterDoctor, whose Web and mobile apps also help users locate the most appropriate doctors for them. Before founding BetterDoctor three years ago, Tulla spent five years at the phone giant Nokia, including as the head of its app studio; he has seen first-hand what determined competitors can do — especially when there’s an enormous market up for grabs. (According to Tulla, 70 million people in the U.S. alone seek out new physicians each year.)
We talked yesterday with Tulla about his 25-person company, which just raised $10 million in Series A funding led by New Enterprise Associates. Our chat has been edited for length.
You had a nice job at Nokia. Why leave to start what seems like a very different business?
It was a personal vendetta for me. About 10 years ago, my wife became ill and it took us many months to find the right help for her. [Afterward], I [began investigating] different systems and learning how they work – Aetna’s, Kaiser’s, even some hospitals like Stanford. You could always find doctors through these services, but you weren’t given any information beyond doctors’ names and where they worked; you couldn’t see who they are, what they focus on specifically [etc.]. Finding the right doctor is complicated, because your perception of quality might be very different than mine.
ZocDoc, among others, also promises to help consumers find the right doctors. What does BetterDoctor differently?
The big difference between BetterDoctor and ZocDoc is that we will feature millions of doctors, pulling in information from [reviews site] Yelp, Doximity [an online social networking service for U.S. physicians], and government data made available through the Open Data Act to [learn] where doctors are, which doctors are referring each other, all the procedures the doctors have done and performed and the prices they’ve charged. We’re not just going to feature those doctors whose are paying ZocDoc [to be listed in its service].
Do doctors have any control over what you feature about them?
They can claim their profile for free and edit their information. We’re also selling the doctor on the ability to upgrade their practice profile, where we create a mini website for them, because most practices still don’t have a good site or any online presence. They exist inside of BetterDoctor – they don’t get their own URL – but we take photos of the practice, write content for the doctor and basically create a picture that allows doctors to look more human to patients. We also [let validated doctors pay for] premium visibility.
How many doctors are in the database currently, and how many doctors have paid for these mini sites?
We have a clean database of million doctors at this point and we’ve built 15,000 [sites].
You used to make mobile apps and games for Nokia. How are you using that background at BetterDoctor?
We try to make it easy and fun for both doctors and patients to use the [platform] by making it very simple. Especially for patients, when you’re looking for a doctor, you’re often at your weakest. So the [user interface] works seamlessly and looks looks very minimalistic. We want to be sure that when you’re sitting there with a 100-degree fever, you can’t get lost.
Sign up for our morning missive, StrictlyVC, featuring all the venture-related news you need to start you day.