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Innovation in Canada: The homegrown company behind Instagram for doctors

Editor’s note: From November 19-30, Yahoo Finance Canada will be highlighting the best of Canadian innovation in a series called The Future Is Now. We’ll be bringing into the spotlight some of the companies and individuals that aren’t just pushing the limits, they’re creating new ones, for themselves and investors alike. We’ll be shining the spotlight on homegrown talent in the fields of satellite technology, autonomous vehicles, wearable tech and more. Check out our hub page for even more coverage and let us know in the comments: Which companies do you think represent the best of Canada looking toward the future?

Figure 1 co-founders Gregory Levey, Richard Penner, Dr. Joshua Landy (Figure 1)
Figure 1 co-founders Gregory Levey, Richard Penner, Dr. Joshua Landy (Figure 1)

Photo sharing isn’t just for showing off vacation pictures, or your cute kids anymore. Thanks to a Canadian company called Figure 1, the technology can help saves lives too. Figure 1 lets the healthcare industry share images of things like brain scans, and x-rays with other doctors for their feedback. It even lets doctors share images from their phones from the field. Yahoo Finance Canada spoke with company’s founders.

What were you doing before starting the company?

Richard Penner: I’m a full-stack developer and before starting Figure 1, I was working in management at Rakuten Kobo with a focus on mobile tech.

Gregory Levey: I’ve had a varied career, which involves being a UN speechwriter, an investigative journalist, an author, and a professor of Professional Communication at Ryerson University. At the time we launched Figure 1, I was teaching. I still work as a professor today, while running Figure 1.

Dr. Joshua Landy: I’m an internist and critical care physician and in 2012, I was a visiting scholar at Stanford University studying how doctors use their phones for medical education. I still practice medicine today, which makes Figure 1 the easiest way for me to stay current.

What gave you the idea?

Landy: While at Stanford, I saw my colleagues sharing medical information over email and text message. There were two big problems with that. It was not secure. Private patient information would be compromised regularly. 2. It was inefficient. If one doctor learned something valuable from a challenging case, that means thousands could have but didn’t.
Home from Stanford, I met with Richard and Greg and we hashed out the idea for Figure 1 over dinner. We wanted to create something that would solve these two problems and keep the focus on doctors learning from their peers. What makes your software different than your competitors?

Penner: The size and reach of our global community. There are many copycat apps and medical education websites, but none do what Figure 1 does at the scale we do it. We were the first to do what we do, and with more than 2.5 million users, we are by far the largest. How much money have you raised so far and who were the investors?

Levey: To date, we have raised more than $20 million in financing from world-class investors including Union Square Ventures, Social Capital, and Samsung NEXT.

What are your plans for raising money going forward?

Levey: Recently, we’ve been approached by several strategic investors who have deep healthcare exposure. These are conversations we are currently having. Beyond that, we have no specific plans for investment.

Would you consider selling your company if the right offer came along?

Levey: We see a huge opportunity to transform the way medical knowledge is shared and used to save lives, and we’ve never been closer to claiming that prize. So right now, our focus is on continued growth.

What are your plans for global expansion?

Penner: In the early days, we focused intently on international expansion, and as a result Figure 1 is now used in 190 countries and in three languages. Now, we’re really interested in connecting specific specialties across time zones and national borders.

How many users do you currently have?

Penner: We have more than 2.5 million registered users.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Levey: The biggest challenge has actually been deciding what to focus on and when. Figure 1 could go in so many exciting directions and we are approached with opportunities on a regular basis, but the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.

Advice for other startups like yours?

Levey: Find focus as soon as possible. This is important both for raising money and for building a good business. You should nail one thing really well as soon as you can.

How have you dealt with privacy issues?

Landy: We always say that the best way to keep a secret is not to know it. Figure 1 was created to prevent compromising patient privacy while sharing medical cases with colleagues. We provide tools for users to remove identifying features from each case, like the automatic face-blocking feature, for example. Additionally, our privacy moderation team reviews each case before it is posted. In short, we don’t allow any identifying patient information anywhere on our platform.

How do you monetize?

Landy: Our platform is based on physicians teaching one another, and that’s also the key to our business. We work with select partners to help them present high-quality clinical content to our community. This content is educational, clearly labelled, clinically based, and meets our benchmarks for integrity, engagement, and relevance. Figure 1 has seen great success with this peer-to-peer sponsored cases from partners like Novartis, Shire, and the Centers for Disease Control Foundation.

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