Starting a Healthcare 2.0 Business

Entrepreneur Interview with Michelle Sobel of STD Test Express

Michelle Sobel is a talented serial entrepreneur, having started multiple forward-thinking Healthcare 2.0 companies. In this entrepreneur interview, Michelle discusses her current venture and offers some excellent entrepreneurial advice.

Michelle Sobel is a co-founder of Analyte Media, the publisher of STD Test Express. We caught up with Michelle for an entrepreneur interview.

She was kind enough to educate us on her new business venture. She also offers some excellent tips for entrepreneurs who are looking to start and grow a successful company.

Michelle, tell me about your current business, STD Test Express. What are you doing exactly?

We help people get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections via "online care".

The way it works is simple. STD Test Express helps people learn about STDs and STD tests. They select their lab tests online and then go directly to the laboratory test center for a specimen draw. In a couple of days they're alerted that their results are available. Physicians are available 7 days a week to explain their results, counsel them on follow up care, and call in prescriptions to a local pharmacy if necessary.

It's a very convenient, private, and affordable solution for people who want to take care of their sexual health. In the way that people can buy airline tickets and trade stocks, people can access healthcare services like lab tests and physician consultation online. Inconvenience is one of the major barriers to routine screening as is basic apathy around prevention in general. Online Care is an innovation that's closing the gap in healthcare.

Sounds like a great offering. Now, how does Analyte Media relate to STD Text Express? Analyte Media owns STD Text Express, right? So, do that mean you will have other offerings similar to STD Test Express in the future?

Analyte Media is our company. STD Test Express ( is one of our online clinics. In the future we'll have online clinics that focus on a wide variety of health conditions and preventative services.

Sounds like a good strategy. Now, this wasn't your first startup, right? Tell us about your previous entrepreneurial experiences. How and when did you decide that being an entrepreneur was the path you wanted to take?

Analyte Media is my third startup. I started my career as a film editor in New York, editing independent movies. That was really the entrepreneurial training ground for me! Low budget filmmakers are scrappy.

I joined the interactive game company, Jellyvision, as a creative director in 1995. That summer we launched the first version of the You Don't Know Jack game series. It was great to be a part of that startup. We created one of the most successful casual gaming franchises that eventually grew to over $100 million in revenue -- and had an insane amount of fun doing it.

In 2002, my husband and I co-founded Emmi Solutions. We saw how the power of interactive conversation could be applied to healthcare and so I created the Emmi product. Emmi is an interactive "prescription information" platform. Doctors prescribe the Emmi program to patients before they have a medical procedure or as a way to help them manage a chronic condition. Over 85 hospitals in the U.S. use Emmi to improve the process of informed consent and help improve outcomes.

To answer your question about how I decided to become an entrepreneur -- I don't think I ever really made that decision. I just like the challenge of taking a great idea and making it real. I like to build things and turn them into businesses.

Interesting. Well, it sounds like STD Test Express is in an interesting space and builds on some of your prior experiences. So, when exactly did you start the business and how did you come up with the concept? Was there an "Aha!" moment of some kind, where you realized this was a good opportunity.

My partner Dan Malven was the driver behind starting Analyte Media. He saw how the collision between consumer-directed healthcare and interactive marketing created the opportunity for Clinic 2.0. We've learned so much in the last 2 years that the "Aha!" moments happen on a daily basis.

How are things going so far? What are some of the biggest challenges you are facing right now and how are you working to overcome them?

Healthcare is a highly regulated and fragmented world. As we'll see in the coming months and years as this massive healthcare bill gets sorted out across state lines, healthcare is local and healthcare is complex. Each state operates a little differently. That's challenging and will continue to be a challenge.

We're also operating in the area of preventative medicine and wellness. Unless we have symptoms, most of us don't go to the doctor. We're a reactive culture and healthcare focuses on sick care not well care. Changing health behaviors is incredibly hard to do. If we can find a way to use the internet to make preventative health easier, more affordable, more socially-connected, and more convenient, we've done a great thing.

You're a fairly successful female entrepreneur. Regarding women entrepreneurs, what specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become an entrepreneur? Are there specific advantages, disadvantages to being a women business owner?

Women are natural entrepreneurs. I'm a working mother. We have to be able to make decisions quickly, delegate, and get it done twice as fast as everyone else because we're doing two full time jobs. I think women can get discouraged as they enter their thirties and feel like they have to make choices. As long as you have a supportive family, you can do it and do it well. We need more female CEOs. We need more female representation on boards. My advice to women? Your talent and results are not enough. Learn the unwritten rules of business and how to play by them.

Great insights. So, based on your entrepreneurial experiences to date, what other advice would you give to somebody who wanted to start a business who asked you for advice? Any final words of wisdom to share with folks who own or want to one day own a business of their own?

Find your inner optimist! Keynes said that our success comes from spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectations. It's the spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction -- and not the outcome of quantitative analysis. Just do it. It takes a kind of naive belief to start a company. You have to be a bit of a magical thinker and, as I call Dan, a "hurdler" to overcome the challenges and see the possibilities.

That's really excellent advice for new entrepreneurs, Michelle. Thanks so much for participating in one of our entrepreneur interviews. We'll keep an eye on your ventures and good luck with them. It's great to hear about smart Healthcare 2.0 startups like yours!

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