Gwen Edwards, managing director of Golden Seeds and lead investor for Golden Seeds’ investment in LarkNovember 27, 2018
For Julia Hu, CEO and founder at Lark, finding the right care and treatment for her chronic condition was something she struggled with for most of her childhood. Having experienced this, she wanted to make sure others who were struggling with, or at risk of, a chronic condition had the opportunity to live happy and healthy lives.
Hu created Lark, a personalized care management platform leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and clinical science. The platform’s goal is to deliver scalable positive health outcomes across major chronic disease states such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, respiratory diseases, arthritis, obesity and oral diseases. Lark is the only data-driven platform to drive behavior change in chronic disease management and prevention using AI and clinical science. The app has more than 1.9 million users.
Below, I talk with Hu about Lark, which Business Insider named among the “Top 10 Most Innovative Apps in the World” alongside Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat and Slack.
JH: I founded Lark seven years ago with the goal of providing personal and compassionate care to anyone suffering from, or at risk of, a chronic condition. I grew up with an undiagnosed chronic condition and it became so intense my father had to give up his job to take care of me. After visiting dozens of specialists, we found a great pediatrician who helped me get rid of most of my attacks, which inspired me to create an accessible platform that provided one-on-one, personalized care.
Lark’s first product was a personal sleep coach and a sleep monitor. Patients wore the device to track sleep patterns and would receive tips on how to improve their sleep. We wanted to broaden the product’s capabilities so we added Harvard University behavior change experts to our team and Stanford University experts to expand into nutrition, fitness and then chronic diseases. Today, the company is focused on helping those with major chronic conditions like diabetes, pre-diabetes and behavioral health.
JH: We offer compassionate personal healthcare for anyone struggling with, or at risk of, a chronic condition through an AI nurse — the first ever non-human to be able to stand in for a healthcare professional and achieve equivalent health outcomes.
We see ourselves as a personal health coach or health team rather than a tool. There are a lot of chronic disease management services that incorporate a connected device, but usually only the sickest patients get quality, everyday care. There also aren’t enough nurses or services are too costly for patients. Our AI nurse chats and texts with patients about issues, trying to be there as much as they need.
Some of our services are fully medically reimbursed and we’re working with large health insurance companies to manage hundreds of thousands of their patients. That’s exciting because it opens the opportunity up to truly personalized and scalable healthcare.
JH: Some of the biggest challenges include the years of research and development and trying to find our product and market fit. During the time of the platform’s development there were a lot of health monitors and FitBit devices coming out. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we added an intelligent layer on top of our platform so it’s not just feeding everyone the data but actually interpreting it and guiding patients on how to be healthier?” So, we decided to add AI coaching to our solution. This allowed us to not just feed the data to our customers, but interpret and offer recommendations to them. It ended up being a much more dramatic shift than I anticipated.
What was helpful was having a good team around me and being able to discuss and go through the different ideas and test them. We spent three years perfecting the “voice” of Lark and it was a really exciting day when we launched the app and saw how people were enjoying it. In fact, they were calling Lark “she” instead of “it.” Then Apple named us one of the top 10 apps of the year and interest really took off.
The product took some time to get where it is today and there were tough moments. But I would tell other entrepreneurs developing products to stick to it and believe in what they’re developing. This has been so worthwhile in so many ways.
JH: A mentor once told me an idea is only worth pursuing if you can see yourself excited to wake up tackling it every day for the next 10 years. I was shocked thinking about a ten year commitment, but I’ve found it’s given me the resilience to tackle a vision that’s dauntingly large.
JH: We are very excited to now be treating and helping more than 1.9 million users. We are a Recognized CDC ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Diabetes Prevention Program provider, and one of the-largest diabetes prevention programs in the nation, and we’re continuing to grow quickly. We’re working with several new health plans in 2019, and tech-wise, have some updates underway in the development side of the service.
JH: Starting your own company is wonderful but it’s a rollercoaster ride. The most important thing you can do for yourself, especially women, is to learn how to manage your own psychology. I constantly heard why my company wouldn’t work — until it did. Women might hear this more often, and it can take a toll, so it’s important to know how to handle the stress. I also recommend working with an executive coach, if possible. Emotionally, it helped me through the beginning stages of funding my company.
JH: The managing directors at Golden Seeds have been our cheerleaders throughout the funding process. The first millions are always the hardest to get and we have since raised a lot more money. But the early years are always the rockiest, so I really appreciate that Golden Seeds was there to support us from the very beginning.
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