Kevon Saber is the CEO of GoCheck Kids, a digital health platform designed for the advanced screening of vision impairment in children globally. The company is based in Nashville, and is currently screening children on 4 continents. We sat down with Kevon to talk about the business, his vision, and what it’s like to scale a global digital health company.
Tim: GoCheck Kids is on a pretty incredible mission. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the company.
Kevon: The company was started by Dr. David Huang who actually invented the most widely used diagnostic in all of ophthalmology. He recognized that most children in America weren’t being screened for the most prevalent disability in the country – vision impairment – because of the absence of an affordable screening tool. He decided he was going to leverage his expertise in biomedical engineering and ophthalmology (he’s got four degrees in those two areas) to invent a product that is actually affordable. GoCheck Kids is a third of the price of the competition and as a result has made vision screening affordable for pediatricians in the U.S. and globally. Our goal is to catch every kid with vision impairment (that’s one in five kids in the U.S.), so that they can see and learn, and ultimately fulfill their potential.
Tim: You were brought into the company as the CEO a little over two years ago from a career outside of healthcare. What drew you to this business?
Kevon: I had said to myself and to my friends for years that I wanted the rest of my career to focus on elevating human flourishing. And I hoped to bring together my background in technology and entrepreneurship for a cause that ultimately would make a big difference in the lives of many people. Preventing the most prevalent disability for children in many countries, GoCheck Kids fit my first criteria. I was also really impressed with the quality of the team. They were the kind of people I would hope to recruit to found a company, but they were already assembled, which of course makes everything go a lot faster. Thirdly, I talked to twenty of their customers, and their enthusiasm for GoCheck Kids’ affordable impact on seeing, learning, and the rest of life was galvanizing. Those three factors were intoxicating and I couldn’t help myself.
Tim: Being new to healthcare, what was the biggest challenge in navigating the healthcare landscape for you early on?
Kevon: I had many steep learning curves, but the biggest thing I underestimated was the increased complexity associated with regional variation in payors, regulatory requirements, and customer preferences. This diversity in the operating environment is also a positive – it encourages a company to practice managing change – which of course is the only constant, and especially in healthcare.
Tim: In your view, what makes GoCheck Kids different than the alternatives available for the advanced screening of pediatric vision impairment?
Kevon: There are a few pediatric photo screeners that have been available for ten years or twenty years, and they are actually very effective. The challenge is that they aren’t affordable, and they increase administrative burden due to their lack of, or negligible EHR integration. We are a third of the price, without compromising on clinical efficacy. That’s probably the biggest reason, in addition to the prevalence of vision impairment that we have skyrocketed. We have grown from about 1,700 pediatricians in the U.S. when I joined just over 2 years ago to over 6,500 today.
The second big way GoCheck Kids is different from other photo screeners that preceded us is that we are a fully digital product that is in the cloud on a modern operating system, enabling us to very easily integrate with a hospital system’s electronic health record. We are already integrated with the EHRs representing most of the market today and every quarter we add additional EHRs. Ultimately, a hospital system isn’t just saving money and impacting outcomes while using GoCheck Kids but they’re also saving a lot of time. This means clinicians can spend more time with patients.
Tim: You mentioned a bit of it already but how has the company grown under your leadership, and are there some wins that you can share?
Kevon: We have grown from 1,700 pediatricians to 6,500 pediatricians which has also represented about a tripling of the company’s revenue. Our burn rate has been cut by eighty percent without any layoffs, driven purely from the growth of the business and our investments in efficiency. More than the numbers, what’s really fulfilling for us is the impact that we see. We look at a lot of big numbers around screenings and referrals but what we love, of course, is hearing the actual stories from pediatricians. Those stories fall into three different but equally fulfilling categories:
First, every day we discover children who are not seeing the chalkboard or whiteboard very well. Their learning, their confidence, even their relationships were compromised because they had vision impairment. Once this impairment is addressed their whole trajectory is changed, because seeing is learning and learning is potential.
The second category consists of kids who are actually losing their vision permanently (this isn’t just a benign issue that glasses can fix); those kids are also not learning. Stories like these are fulfilling because these are children who are going to lose twenty percent or seventy percent of their vision in one or both eyes if it weren’t for GoCheckKids.
And fortunately, this last category of issues is much more rare: retinal cancer. This disease usually spreads from the eye to the brain and will not only cause a child to lose their vision in both eyes but also their life if they aren’t caught very early. The magic of GoCheck Kids, is that we enable pediatricians to catch these issues early and while they are still treatable, which saves a child’s learning, vision or life. We believe every child deserves to see what they’re capable of.
Tim: You mentioned impact here and there’s been talk about GoCheckKids’ ability to make a global impact. Has that begun, and how do you see that evolving overtime?
Kevon: We received our CE mark, which is the FDA equivalent in Europe last year. And already about 15% of GoCheck Kids screenings are in Europe. We actually have a few pilot customers in Asia right now. We’ve also just landed our first customer in Africa, so now GoCheck Kids is being used on four continents to protect the learning and vision and potential of children. We are definitely excited to expand our global footprint and impact which of course is being made possible by the portability and the affordability of the approach we are taking: putting a proprietary advanced technology on a smartphone which has a significantly lower cost of manufacturing and distribution than a traditional medical device.
Tim: Very Cool. How do you think about company culture as the leader of an organization that you weren’t the founder of?
Kevon: You know, when I was in Belgium a few days ago, a candidate who was applying to work at GoCheck asked me what single characteristic is true for everyone in the company. We were having lunch and I didn’t even have to drop my fork, it was obvious. Everyone at GoCheck Kids is passionate about our mission. They are passionate about protecting the potential of the kids we serve and as a result, elevating human flourishing.
When I joined the company, it was tempting to take my business and life principles and kind of impose them on the company and the culture and the people. But I realized that probably wasn’t going to be as effective as just taking a more patient approach. What I did was just observe and listen to see what the principles were that people at GoCheck Kids already had. My job was actually more of a scribe as opposed to an agent of things. And then to create a discussion with the team to see ‘what are the great aspects of the culture already existing and where we can improve.’ Our work here is never done, but I feel like taking a more patient approach ultimately has resulted in a commitment to principles and a culture that is broadly shared by the company as opposed to the likely resistance that I could have experienced if I was imposing my own principles.
Tim: So with all that in mind, what keeps you up at night?
Kevon: The one thing I’m thinking a lot about right now is how to provide a product that’s disruptive (not to hospital systems or doctors): radically changing affordability and access to care. However, that’s really hard to do if hospital systems put vastly more affordable digital products through an unnecessarily long decision cycle. If so, digital health companies can’t reap the full cost advantages of being digital because they have to spend a lot of money on sales and marketing, on these really long sales cycles. That’s not something that I think GoCheck Kids or any hospital can figure out in isolation, but as we sit across the table and talk about our mutual desire to advance outcomes and lower costs, we have to find a way to compress the sales cycle if we plan to both boost outcomes and lower healthcare costs for the whole system.
Tim: Awesome Kevon, that was great.