Cloudy with a Chance of Pain

Team 53dN interviewed London-based uMotif founder Bruce Hellman

After completing his MBA at Imperial, Bruce Hellman committed to the idea of being an entrepreneur. Opportunity struck when he met his current business partner at their sons’ nursery school Christmas party. Ben James ran an agency to design and code interactive displays for galleries and museums – bringing data visualisation to life at institutions like the London Science museum.

The Genesis

In early 2012 they landed on the concept of creating a digital platform through which people can track their general health and wellbeing. After testing their hypothesis by talking directly to patients, they further refined the concept to focus on specific health issues such as Parkinson’s. Their mission? ‘To help patients have a better relationship with their doctors, have a better follow up, take their medications on time and improve outcomes in the healthcare sector.’

This was the genesis of uMotif.

The Pivot

The direct to consumer approach soon ran into two key problems. There is still little investment interest in patient facing technology, and almost more critically, ‘it isn’t at the core of the medical care ecosystem.’ In other words whilst there was a clear consumer need, the business need was more elusive.

The resulting pivot was to focus rather on research companies where data is essential and the industry is lucrative with half a billion pounds spent annually. uMotif subsequently runs on a Saas licensing model with clients like Novartis, Merck and AstraZenecka. Patients therefore don’t pay but are asked to donate their data to make a difference and unlock insights.

How does it work?

uMotif soon proved to be a successful channel for researchers who traditionally struggle to gather patient generated feedback. It works because Bruce kept patient needs at the core of the app’s design. As he put it, ‘give the patient something they like to use and the data is a happy consequence.’

Its most engaging feature is a flower-like design with ten petals, each representing a different symptom or ‘motif’ such as pain, mood or sleep quality. By dragging a finger up or down the petal, patients can score themselves daily. The appealing design leads to high engagement with their record patient logging 460 consecutive days. The results can then by pulled as reports with easy to read graphs.

The app also support more regulated ‘FDA-approved’ research questionnaires and those designed for specific studies.

One memorable study titled ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Pain,’ commissioned by Manchester University, aimed to understand whether aches and pains really do increase with cold weather.

The study was broadcast on the BBC, eventually attracting 13 000 participants who received a code to access the trial. Whilst the results are inconclusive.. there was an indication that pain might actually decrease with cold!

What next?

uMotif’s business is split fairly evenly between the UK and US, but they are currently focusing future growth in the US. Bruce recently attended a health conference in Massachusetts where a life-size cut out of Prince Harry and Megan Markel helped attract a US audience to their British business!

When asked whether they would expand into creating digital diagnosis tools Bruce seemed hesitant. For him it is important to help facilitate rather than replace health services, saying that the magic lies in ‘taking a normal human interaction and dropping a bit of digital in.’

And finally, our two wacky questions…

…If uMotif was an animal what would it be? Bruce believes in the industry beaver for its constructive and productive qualities.
…And if you can hire anyone in the world for uMotif who would it be? Elon Musk as an advisor for his visionary thinking.


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