In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we spoke with Alice Crisci, CEO and founder of MedAnswers, a digital gateway to information during the path to parenthood. Basically, MedAnswers is an app where you can anonymously ask fertility-related questions to a large pool of doctors and specialists — the “Quora” for people struggling to conceive. Listen in to learn about how Alice came up with the platform and the journey she took to get it from initial idea to equity crowdfunding and beyond.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • The inspiration behind MedAnswers
  • How they determined the core features for the platform
  • The decision process they went through to develop an app
  • Their experience with equity crowdfunding on StartEngine
  • The #1 tip to other startup founders when launching a product

Links

Sponsors

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Transcript

View this episode's transcript
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, president of Enventys Partners, the top full service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over $100 million for our clients since 2010. Each week I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding. Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by Gadget Flow. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now let’s get on with the show.
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I am joined with Alice Crisci, CEO and Founder of Med Answers. Alice, thank you so much for joining us today.
Alice Crisci:
You are welcome. Thanks for having me.
Roy Morejon:
So Alice, you have an incredible story behind you, I’m really excited to dive into your equity crowdfunding campaign that you did on Start Engine, but let’s begin at really the beginning here, and where did this all start, and what inspired you to create Med Answers?
Alice Crisci:
Great question. I think a lot of entrepreneurs, sometimes seeds are planted years before you have a full idea formed. 12 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer at a pretty young age, I was only 31, and my experience in going through cancer treatment was unique in that my second opinion oncologist didn’t agree with the treatment plan my primary oncologist had already had me on, meaning I was already getting chemo when I realized that my second opinion oncologist didn’t agree with what chemo I should be on. That was a very frightening experience. Chemo is really difficult to go through and for whatever reason I had the foresight to get the two of these physicians on a phone call together, so the three of us are on a conference call, and I had them explain to each other where they were coming from. I wanted to understand their critical thinking behind each of their approaches so that I could decide what made the most sense for me.
Alice Crisci:
And in the end I switched to my second opinion oncologist and I started down a different treatment path that was much more aggressive than the other one that I did. It was the decision I could live with. So fast forward, or flash forward years, and as I was getting deeply entrenched in the fertility field, I started to notice that when people go into paying $20,000 for an IVF cycle, or in some cases up to 60 in the case of $130,000, this patient population would really benefit from the experience that I went through with oncology, and getting multiple opinions to weigh in on very big treatment decisions. That was really the genesis of the idea.
Alice Crisci:
So when my business partner and I started formulating and flushing out how would we do this, we thought, okay, well core meets LinkedIn for fertility, let’s actually get patients into one place, let’s anonymize them, and then let’s give them access to specialists who can weigh in. We can have more than one specialist weigh in on an answer and we can have specialists even up vote answers. So patients in specialty healthcare verticals can actually get clinical consensus around answers to their very personal questions.
Roy Morejon:
So when you were creating Med Answers, what was that process like? I’m assuming you weren’t an app developer beforehand, so how did you go about deciding what features to include in the app, which version to launch on, whether it be Apple or Android, et cetera?
Alice Crisci:
Such great important questions for people who are considering this. I got great advice from a lot of people who are software developers and technologists heading into it. The truth is my business partner and I flushed out the core feature set over email, I mean, like all great entrepreneurs. We weren’t at a whiteboard scribbling this out, we actually just…the idea popped and it just sort of flowed. And as we were coming up with our core features, then I did workshop with an agency to come up with every possible feature idea, and then we were able to step back and say what is the minimum viable product here? And the minimal viable product for us was that direct connection from patient to specialist. So we knew we would have to aggregate demand, and we knew that we would have to provide supply, supply being these expert answers.
Alice Crisci:
So we looked at well what’s the basic interaction that we knew kind of our friends in the fertility field would be willing to volunteer their time to do? And that’s really around these answers. I think the other thing that we did do is we tested it, we went out to our community and we had 20 to 50 kind of early adopters who said yes I want to be a part of this, I think it’s a great idea, were really excited.
Alice Crisci:
So before I started building anything, I gained enthusiasm from the experts that would have to provide the first set of answers. And those same experts who were willing to answer free questions for us in the beginning were actually some of our first angel investors. Mostly they got so behind the secondary part of our mission, which is to prevent the spread of misinformation, and that’s in all specialty healthcare verticals, we just picked fertility to launch first because my business partner and I will have been deeply entrenched in our field for years and that was the area that we thought we could make the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, and I love the fact that you followed through with creating the MVP, getting a community involved that really speaks to the audience to which you were going after, and then obviously having the experts needed on there to truly provide their opinion on the case itself, and then reaching out to them and them being so entrenched in loving the process and the product that you’ve created to become your investors. So flash forward a year in terms of the equity crowdfunding campaign that you did on Start Engine a few years ago to jumpstart your development on that, what did setting up that campaign look like, and how did you decide that equity crowdfunding was a viable means for you to raise your initial cash?
Alice Crisci:
I would say that was tough. So the initial capital actually came from my business partner and these early adopters if you will, these IVF specialists, and people from the IVF community. What we did notice though is that we reached out to a community that aren’t necessarily sophisticated investors, they haven’t necessarily even invested in something before. The Start Engine campaign came about because we needed a vehicle to make it easy for nonaccredited investors to join us. And in some cases, because it was the first time for them, that vehicle with Start Engine was kind of an educational opportunity and it was a safe place for them to trust that the process was legal, that all the documentation was correct, that we had kind of the infrastructure support for them to know what they were getting themselves into, if you will.
Alice Crisci:
And then beyond that it became this really incredible opportunity to get friends and family to invest. And in some cases friends and family who could only invest $500 here or $500 there. In fact, the very first person who invested in our crowdfunding campaign is a friend of mine from first grade, truly a friend of mine from first grade. I have guys that I played basketball with who invested in that campaign. So what started as an idea to really give the infertility field of specialists a vehicle to help them invest in our company, it really expanded beyond that to be this incredible place for people I’ve known from years and years to have a stake in the company too.
Roy Morejon:
Did the majority of your investors come from your inner circle if you will, or did you find that there were opportunities outside of that to bring other folks into the campaign itself?
Alice Crisci:
I think it was an 80/20 rule, 80% knew me and my business partner or somebody else very close to us, and then 20% are brand new people whose names I didn’t know before this who are now within our trusted inner circle. Start Engine makes it pretty streamlined to get through the experience. That said, it’s still a clunky process in the sense of your rebuilding your entire pitch deck in kind of an electronic process, and you have to go through a lot of checkpoints and there’s a lot of approval steps. The Start Engine team itself was incredibly helpful to helping us get through the process as fast as we can. And we were super successful. I mean I think that we oversubscribed in the first month, so then we extended it for a bit, but shortly thereafter it was kind of time for us to move on to the next round of funding to go after venture capital.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. So you guys went on to raise an additional $5 million via venture capital, so what are you guys doing there in terms of the additional capital? It looks like you’ve built out an incredible team now, so really interested to know what the last two years have been?
Alice Crisci:
The last two years have been intense Roy.
Roy Morejon:
I bet.
Alice Crisci:
The last few years have been a flurry of just growth and explosion and activity. We have an incredible team, we have truly built out our platform now on both iOS and Android and web, we have another kind of version of the website coming out soon to really position us in more of the public domain as the core for fertility. But our user growth exploded, we grew 1000% in the last year, we have added triple the amount of experts, probably quadruple at this point, I’m answering questions, we have 12,000 answers provided by over 300 providers and that grows every day. We also recently were able to finally launch our revenue engine, we’ve really built ourselves as a patient engagement platform, but really for partnered brands and partnered clinics, we really provide a marketing ecosystem for them where again, we go and get demand so they don’t have to do it in all these super noisy places like Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and Instagram.
Alice Crisci:
They still need to have that brand presence, but we can be the patient acquisition channel for them, and that’s because we built such a great ecosystem both within the platform itself and kind of in the greater social community, we have a super strong brand presence on Instagram, we get hundreds of thousands of views on our Facebook Live videos per week, those I run with a variety of our experts in the network. I have a Monday motivation one, I have a fertility tip Tuesday and then we’re adding a Wednesday as well to rotate expert voices in the community because our patients love video content. So we pushed that on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube.
Alice Crisci:
So I’d say that, yeah, the last two years have been incredible. We’ll be releasing our telehealth tool set here soon so that we can take that connection between patient provider a step further where we can make it really a seamless experience for our users to go ahead and book a telephone consult. And that’s really important to us because 70% of the market is further than 30 miles away from an IVF clinic. And we’ll be doing another round of fundraising this year, and then I’m hoping to add another vertical next year to our domain set so that we’re not just fertility answers, but we can expand into OB for the answers or migraine answers or diabetes answers.
Roy Morejon:
So with so much stuff going on in launching this startup, what’s the number one tip that you would give to other startup founders in terms of launching their product?
Alice Crisci:
Oh my goodness, only one?
Roy Morejon:
As many as you would like.
Alice Crisci:
Yeah. I mean I think that the number one tip I would say if I’m focusing with any founder is really raise more money than you think you need because everything takes longer to implement, and longer to get traction than you think it’s going to. And I have a team that we move really fast, my superhero power is being extremely catalytic. But I would say that everything still takes longer than one expects, so just you raise way more than you think you need.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well Alice, this is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You good to go?
Alice Crisci:
I think so, I’ll try to rapid answer.
Roy Morejon:
Do it. So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Alice Crisci:
I don’t like bosses.
Roy Morejon:
That’s the most common answer, absolutely. So if you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Alice Crisci:
Nobody’s asked me that before. I’d rather meet with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, could I do that instead?
Roy Morejon:
RBG for sure. So what would be your first question for her?
Alice Crisci:
Gosh, I think probably the first question for her would just be in the moments of doubt, where did she go to access, to kind of access strength, access the grit she needed to keep moving forward.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. What book would you recommend to other startup founders that they read?
Alice Crisci:
The Greatest Salesman in the World.
Roy Morejon:
Solid read. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Alice Crisci:
With an IPO.
Roy Morejon:
Excellent. All right, last question, Alice. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Alice Crisci:
I think crowdfunding is incredible. I think that the future is a lot of people, every day people, who know nothing about investing, getting to invest in great startups and great companies, and really crowdfunding being the thing that helps propel startups forward in a totally new way. I think it is an essential part of the startup ecosystem now.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, Alice, this has been awesome, please, this is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should check you out.
Alice Crisci:
Absolutely. Fertility Answers is an iOS and Android platform, if you are trying to conceive or struggling to conceive, we protect your anonymity and we connect you directly to expert solutions and even clinical trials that can help you on your path to parenthood. You can find us on medanswers.com or you can download the Fertility Answers app on iOS or on Android, and you can always check out our Facebook page, we have 16 pieces of incredible rich content to help get all your fertility questions answered.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Audience, thanks again for tuning in, make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the app and everything else we talked about today, and of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow and Product Type. Alice, thank you so much for being on Art of the Kickstart today.
Alice Crisci:
Thanks Roy.
Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning into another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it, and of course, if you love this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on Enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.