“Time flies” is not even close to describing how quick these last years passed. But here we are, in 2022, celebrating 10 years of Infermedica. Buckle up and let me guide you through our company's past, present, and future. Hear the voices of our founders, Piotr, Roberto, and Irv, and first employees, Kasia and Paweł, who used their expertise to steer Infermedica’s growth and develop its potential. Finally, get a sneaky peek into our castle party, where 200 people met to celebrate this great anniversary. And I have to say, the celebration was epic
At a glance:
From 20-question game to Medical Guidance Platform
Retro vibe of early beginnings
I’d like to open this story with a quote from Irving Loh, MD, CMO and one of our co-founders because I think it captures what most of us feel about this special moment in our company’s history. I asked him what comes to mind when he thinks about this 10-year anniversary, and he said, “first thought, I’m sure shared by many, is how can this be 10 years already? The growth of the company in the 10 year span has been quite remarkable and I look forward to contributing moving forward.”
So let’s rewind some years back and learn how it all started.
It was 2010 when Piotr, our CEO, played a 20-question game called Akinator and became intrigued by the concept. An idea came to his mind to recreate this game, but rather than asking about famous people, he decided to orient the questions around health symptoms. This was how a simple online game became the very first inspiration to build the Infermedica we know today.
Soon, the work began. After about six months Piotr and his friends had built a prototype. It started with a knowledge base of medical concepts that was later converted into Bayesian models. This resulted in a demo version called Doktor Medi, the foundation of our future technology. But, in its early days it wasn’t perfect.
“Among the many heartwarming, uplifting and awe-inspiring moments I've had at Infermedica, there are quite a few that were funny (some even hilarious). The one that first comes to mind is the discussion on feedback from a woman who'd consulted Doctor Medi about her symptoms and was upset that his expression was serious and sad when presenting her result of pregnancy.”
— Kasia Trybucka / MD and one of the first Infermedica team members
Biking around the office
Although we had a demo product, the reality of financing the project really kicked in. We needed to find investors to be able to keep working on this idea. After two years of searching we finally found the first investor who really believed in our vision—Wrocławskie Centrum Badań EIT+.
At this time Piotr invited his dear friend Paweł Iwaszko (now Infermedica’s CTO) to join him in this adventure. They rented a small office and worked hard on the product. Paweł describes these times saying, “We started really small, just two of us in an old loft-like office where I could ride my bike inside. I guess I never imagined that it could grow so much, and even though there were ups and downs and a few times we were very close to failing, it's been an amazing journey and I'm really grateful for it.”
Finally, the big day arrived, and on September 25, 2012 Doktor Medi was launched, followed by its English version Symptomate.
Silicon Valley experience
Speeding up the timeline, in 2013 Infermedica found another investor, called Innovation Nest. Throughout their accelerator program they were sending startups from Poland to Silicon Valley to learn, meet interesting people, and refine business assumptions.
Through their program, Piotr traveled to San Francisco, for the first of many trips that shaped Infermedica, to explore different business hypotheses on how to make his idea successful. He slept in many, let’s say, budget places, and even had an office in a garage. But most importantly, he looked for feedback from entrepreneurs, angel investors, doctors, engineers, and whoever was willing to meet for a coffee! “The first couple of years were the real “startup struggle”. We were in a constant search of the product market fit and failed multiple times. In those early days we almost ran out of business on a few occasions but we always found a helping hand of either clients or investors who believed in our vision and helped us succeed,” comments Piotr.
Ultimately, this trip became even more influential, as this is when Piotr met our two co-founders, Irving Loh, MD, our future Chief Medical Officer and Roberto Sicconi, Ph.D, our future Chief Science Office.
“Piotr and I met in Silicon Valley and I believe recognized an instant synergy with our skill sets and experiences and we formed a pact to build, grow, and guide this company and create something of potentially huge value for healthcare systems and patients all over the world.”
— Irving Loh, MD / Chief Medical Officer, Infermedica.
“When I met Piotr the first time, I got impressed by his special mix of leadership and communications skills, competence, confidence, vision and ability to execute. While Infermedica was still a small startup, as soon as he asked if I was interested in joining as co-founder, I jumped on it. I could not have made a better decision!”
— Roberto Sicconi, Ph.D / Chief Science Officer, Infermedica.
Together with two new co-founders they started refining the vision for Infermedica’s growth. “We also found our first clients in the US!” adds Piotr.
Another important point to mention regarding the first trip to the US, is that Infermedica got accepted to join a digital health acceleration program in Philadelphia, organized by DreamIT Ventures. This significantly helped in our US expansion, as Piotr met amazing founders and mentors who connected him to potential clients and investors. And in the end, DreamIT became an investor as well!
“I sometimes say that Infermedica was five or six different companies in the past 10 years. Not only the scale and people have changed but also the products we wanted to bring to market. The shift from B2C to B2B was a result of customer feedback. We were not able to find a scalable direct-to-client model but we found numerous healthcare organizations that were ready to license our technology to improve how they service their patients and providers.”
— Piotr Orzechowski / CEO and Co-Founder, Infermedica.
“Based on the feedback received so far and observing the rise of the first API-based health startups in Silicon Valley, I realized that we can repackage what we have and become a solution others can use to empower products and services that are already being offered to hospitals and health systems. That’s how the idea of API was born. In the first three weeks we had 31 sign ups. The number of signups was quickly increasing every week and I felt that we found something very interesting,” says Piotr.
And shortly after, he received an email from a German company interested in our technology!
“And that’s not all,” he adds “at around the same time I also got an email from Allianz Partners innovation team that was doing research on symptom checkers and they came across Symptomate. We were the only ones providing white-labeling, configuration, analytics and multiple language versions. We kept our customer development mindset and actually we’ve built triage functionality and new languages just for Allianz. The pilot was successful and they’ve become our flagship client that attracted many more clients!”
With new clients on board, such as PZU Zdrowie and Dovera (two of the largest insurance companies in Poland and Slovakia, respectively), we maintained steady growth—we could even afford a bigger office and hire new people.
Many amazing things have happened since then. Over the next few years the company grew significantly. From a handful of clients to nearly a hundred, serving 10M+ patients around the world. From one person with a great idea to more than 200 people on board in 2022!
From the perspective of one of the first employees, Kasia shared, “I'm amazed at how the company's grown. I don't think I'm very surprised, though. Infermedica's creators are focused, driven people with a positive attitude and the ability to learn from mistakes. Their concentration on progress in small steps without losing sight of their greater goals, their insistence on making Infermedica a good place to work and their determination to strive through hardship is something we all benefit from. I think all our users benefit from it as well.”
So, before we jump into the present, there’s also one event in 2020 I want to mention, which really stress-tested both our technology and company values. And it was actually when COVID-19 struck the world.
During this time, the whole company stood up on its head and worked tirelessly to develop our COVID Risk Assessment tool in just 3 weeks. The tool helped patients to quickly assess their risk of coronavirus and provided recommendations on what to do next. COVID RA was available in 20 languages and was used by 600+ organizations and 1.5M+ patients. Since then coronavirus has been added to the list of possible conditions in our knowledge base, and is therefore a part of any symptom check.
Let’s move on to the beginning of 2022 when we received another round of funding. With One Peak leading the investment round and the support of our previous investors: Karma Ventures, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Heal Capital, and Inovo Venture Partners we raised $45M in total. Along with Series A, the funding was essential for Infermedica to take our technology to the next level.
And here we are. We’ve just announced the release of our Medical Guidance Platform, being another step towards achieving our vision of making primary care more efficient, affordable, and accessible for everyone around the world.
“Many young companies aim at changing the world for the better. Sometimes reality kicks in and the initial intentions fade, while securing more profitable business opportunities, possibly at the cost of sacrificing some of the initial goals. That never happened at Infermedica: if anything, the opportunity to substantially change the way healthcare can be delivered for the better, is growing by the day. Good health is not a given and all of us at some point of our life will need support. Infermedica is extremely well positioned to be a key player in personalizing health services, making them available anytime, anywhere, to the benefit of everybody. I feel honored to be part of this talented team, and to have an opportunity to contribute to Infermedica's resounding success.”
— Roberto Sicconi, Ph.D / Chief Science Officer, Infermedica.
“I firmly believe that the increasing shortage of medical staff can be at least partially addressed by the use of safe and reliable technology that automates mundane tasks and guides patients toward better health decisions. This is why we’ve launched our Medical Guidance Platform which expands Infermedica’s vision beyond the original triage module into a wider spectrum of modules including intake collection and follow up after the visit. Our ambition is to become the Stripe of AI-based support of healthcare journeys in primary care.”
— Piotr Orzechowski / CEO and Co-Founder, Infermedica.
Roberto adds, “When a company reaches 10 years of age, the main question is no longer "will it be successful", but rather "how successful will it continue to be?". Sophisticated market intelligence, new product positioning, revamped aspirations, medium- and long-term planning become necessities and require a change of mind, especially in the top management. What makes Infermedica so unique is that it managed to evolve smoothly from a small startup to an established player without ever losing the ability to stay nimble, agile, flexible. That will be key to adapt to ever evolving market needs, and to transform to remain successful over the long run.”
Celebrate good times, come on
This summer 200 people gathered in the beautiful Wojanów Palace, Poland to celebrate Infermedica’s 10-year anniversary. During these two days, I witnessed how the company came together to dance, laugh, and share tears of joy, all of which created a wonderfully festive atmosphere. Many of us became firm friends along the way and I know this celebration will stay in our memories for years to come.
Paweł Iwaszko shares his thoughts about the atmosphere at Infermedica in these words, “What is special to me is how infermedica felt home-like in the early days with the whole team having daily lunches together and having our company get-togethers in a garden of Piotr's parents where his parents would take care of our kids. This kind of vibe is hard to find elsewhere and while it's a great challenge to keep it up with that many people on board, and with remote work, I feel that this vibe is still an important part of Infermedica’s identity and it makes me have a great time here even after a decade.”
When asked what he’s most proud of regarding Infermedica’s growth Dr. Irv Loh, Infermedica’s CMO said, “This one is easy. It’s the evolution of the grander image of what Infermedica can do to improve healthcare around the world for not only patients, but for providers as well. Evolution does not occur by itself, but requires insight, nurturing, and adjustments by not only its leadership, but by all who work here. I’m so proud of the people who make this possible, and I’m proud to have played a part in it.”
I asked Piotr what comes to mind first when he thinks about Infermedica's 10-year anniversary, and he responded:
“Gratitude. I’m immensely grateful to hundreds of amazing people who helped us build the company throughout the years. I’m also thankful to our customers and shareholders for their continued trust and support.
Therefore we’d like to thank all of our investors: Karma Ventures, One Peak Partners, INOVO Venture Partners, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Heal Capital, DreamIT HealthTech, Innovation Nest, Unfold.vc (formerly Venture Inc), Muller Medien, RTA Ventures. With your help we shape the future of healthcare where doctors’ skills combine with hi-tech care automation.
And of course big thank you to the Infermedica Team for being the most crucial part of this journey. We achieved amazing things together, we saved lives, we helped people, inspired others to innovate, and built a beautiful workplace.”
So, that’s all from me, but I’d like to leave a little author’s note here, although I put the piece together it wouldn't have happened without the entire Infermedica Team, as each of us contributed to getting the company where it is today. I wanted the interviews with Infermedica co-founders and first employees to be the leading theme, because they were here from the early beginnings, and could observe the company’s development through the years. I’m proud I could be the one to share the story and I want to thank everyone involved.
BL/ EN/ 2022/07/20/2