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A Digital Health Wake Up Call—Paul Sonnier, Announcement to 16,000+ member Digital Health Group on LinkedIn

March 18, 2013

I sent the following announcement to 16,000+ members of my Digital Health group on LinkedIn on March 18, 2013:

A Digital Health Wake Up Call—Paul Sonnier, Announcement to 16,000+ member Digital Health Group on LinkedIn

Dear Digital Health group members,

In this update:

(1) Zeo’s Demise Should be a Wake Up Call for Sleep Wellness Segment
(2) Event Notifications
(3) Startup Resources

(1) ZEO’S DEMISE SHOULD BE A WAKEUP CALL FOR SLEEP WELLNESS SEGMENT

Zeo, the company that provided a well known direct-to-consumer (DTC) sleep monitoring and coaching system that claimed to take the “science of sleep out of the lab and put it into your hands”, has closed shop. While speculation abounds as to why this happened (see the great comments in this group discussion), it does highlight some of the challenges in this dynamic consumer digital health market segment, which represents 70 million people in the US alone.

While spending heavily on marketing, Zeo was being challenged by other consumer-focused, non-clinically validated or FDA-cleared solutions. Building their own single-purpose device was a cost-driver that many new and existing entrants were not burdened with and, according to some reviews, still delivered comparable results, typically without the need to wear a headband. Here’s an example comparison of Zeo, BodyMedia, and the Sleep Time app.

With a high price point and increasing segment competitors, who produce similar results at lower cost by re-purposing or adding features to existing platforms (e.g. BodyMedia, Jawbone UP), Zeo’s demise may have been inevitable. Other players, for example SleepRate, use third party product hardware—like the Polar heart rate monitor—thus obviating hardware cost to them altogether. Even more prevalent are the standalone smartphone apps from companies like Sleep Time (by Azumio) and Sleep Cycle, which simply require that you place your phone on your mattress. These last types offer extremely low barriers to market entry and can therefore reach the most consumers, who may be cost-averse short-term users.

All of that aside, there are some very serious issues to consider with the consumer sleep “monitoring and coaching” aka “wellness” segment as compared to the food-, fitness-, activity-, self-, health-tracking segment of digital health (aka Quantified Self). I’ve previously written about hype in that segment, but feel differently about this one. The problem with hype here is that marketing terms like “monitoring” and “coaching”—or one headline that stated “Zeo Brings Sleep Science Out of the Lab, Into Your Home” —imply that there is a diagnostic aspect to the products. But this is not the case as none of these products are clinically accurate, medically validated, or FDA-cleared.

What do you think?
— Is the consumer sleep wellness approach that was pursued by Zeo and continues to be by others providing value to consumers beyond novelty?
— Is there risk that consumers could have a false sense of security and go undiagnosed for serious conditions, e.g. sleep apnea?
— Does Zeo’s demise represent a market correction for the consumer sleep wellness segment?
— Does it reaffirm the importance of clinically-validated solutions—either used in the home or a sleep lab?

(2) EVENT NOTIFICATIONS

You can receive notifications any time a new event, conference, or webinar is added to the events discussion in the group: http://bit.ly/DHGroupEvents

I also maintain a comprehensive global event list for health innovation and life science investor conferences: http://bit.ly/DHEvents

(3) STARTUP RESOURCES

This is a list of funding opportunities and other related resources for startups: http://bit.ly/DigitalHealthFunding

Best regards,
Paul Sonnier

Head of Digital Health Strategy, Popper and Company
Founder, 16,000+ member Digital Health group on LinkedIn
Mentor, Blueprint Health
Twitter: @Paul_Sonnier

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