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WebMD Meets Facebook: The Story of Healthy Labs
For patients with debilitating diseases, the Internet has become a vital source of information about treatment options and a place where sufferers, along with their loved ones, can come together to increase their knowledge and power in their quest to curtail suffering.
But until recently, there have not been social networks dedicated to helping individuals who suffer from specific ailments, thus relegating message boards, forums, and other decentralized nodes to form the core of an online ecosystem for managing diseases. But Healthy Labs, founded and led by CEO Sean Ahrens, is out to change that.
Ahrens, 26, was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease at age 12. In late 2011, this led him to create Crohnology.com, Healthy Labs' first product, which is a social network for sufferers of both Crohn's, a gastrointestinal disease, and colitis, a related disease.
"At Healthy Labs, we build software by patients for patients, whereas most companies just build software for hospitals and doctors," Ahrens said. "We believe that patients are experts, but the current medical system doesn't value their expertise."
Healthy Labs' co-founder and CTO, Will Cole, 25, met Ahrens when they were both computer science students at UC Berkeley.
"We worked on several class projects together, including a short film, and became friends," Cole said. "After graduating, however, we went our separate ways. Sean went to work at startup and I went the opposite direction, Microsoft. One day at work, I saw a blog post Sean had submitted to Hacker News. I emailed him to say congratulations. By the next week, I had quit my job at Microsoft, moved in with my parents, and joined Sean as co-founder."
Crohnology has attracted more than 2,000 users.
"The next verticals we're going to tackle are other chronic autoimmune conditions and mental disorders," Cole said, "starting with Multiple Sclerosis."
The platform features an interconnected health dashboard equipped with questions, answers, reviews, treatment recommendations, social connections, and health tracking capabilities. At this point, more than 98% of the 4,000 questions asked on Crohnology have been answered.
Healthy Labs is now financially backed by YCombinator (the team was part of the world-renowned incubator's Summer 2012 class), Rock Health, and Berkeley Skydeck.
"We just started raising our seed round, which is being led by angel investor Kevin Rose," Cole said. "Our goal is to wrap up this round and hire three more developers."
"We want Healthy Labs to help the one in six people who have a medical condition that severely affects their day-to-day life," Ahrens said. "We want to connect all of the patients around the world. Imagine a world where every patient could instantly get the support, information, and answers they needed."