We regularly interview founders trying to disrupt their respective industries, introducing new and sometimes long overdue solutions to the market. Healthcare, however, has struggled to keep up. Industries like finance have embraced technology in recent years, but healthcare has inched forwards on the backs of challenger startups like Bootstrappers alum, Locumate.
In Austria, another startup accelerating the pace of change is appointmed. It helps doctors and therapists (including surgeons, psychotherapists, occupational therapists, osteopaths, and nutritionists) in German-speaking countries automate admin with technology. With less admin to do, healthcare professionals can concentrate on the care and satisfaction of their patients.
Appointmed takes care of scheduling, patient records, invoicing, and accounting – everything a healthcare professional needs to manage and streamline their practice. And the software runs in a browser, so they can take their practice anywhere, accessing it from a smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
Twelve hundred practices in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland currently use appointmed. With a team of only five, the company tackled over 1,900 support cases in 2021 with an average response time of three minutes. This year, the startup celebrated its sixth anniversary.
The Right Idea Is as Important as the Right Team
Patrik Inzinger, the cofounder and CEO of appointmed, has been designing products from a young age. He sold his first website at only 13. Now with over 17 years of professional experience as a product designer, he has helped launch some of the most successful Austrian startups and worked on international projects for Audi, The Ritz Carlton, and Pfizer.
“My cofounder, Bernhard Keprt, and I used to play video games together back in the day – and every cool gaming team had a website. I was thirteen and decided to look into photo editing, web design, and graphics, while Bernhard was interested in HTML and CSS. Fast forward and he ended up getting a computer engineering degree, and I went into UI/UX product design. We found each other again later in life and worked together on freelance projects,” Patrik says.
Then in 2013, they conceived of appointmed together. Patrik is in charge of the user experience and design. Bernhard, as cofounder and CTO, focuses on data security and the platform’s backend. To round out the founding team’s skills, they brought two other cofounders on board: Christopher Supnig focuses on front-end development and Mario Habenbacher on marketing and sales.
Before appointmed, this same founding team tried to launch a fintech startup in 2009. Unfortunately, it wasn’t successful. Patrik says, “We failed because we lacked connections in the finance industry. It’s so hard to break into that sector. You won’t make it without proper connections. We dropped that project in 2011 and then took a two-year break.”
But the team worked so well together that it reunited to devise their next project. While healthcare also seemed to be a tough industry to get into, their collective expertise set them up for success. So, they brainstormed a product that would make sense in that industry.
Patrik says, “We wanted to provide a valuable asset in the healthcare industry. Nobody has focused on improving the user experience in that sector – over here in Europe at least. The United States is years ahead of Europe, so healthcare has undergone more innovations there. But the German-speaking market is still very traditional. In our market, applying practices from the tech industry to healthcare is relatively new.”
Europe had tried to innovate, but most of the software hadn’t been updated in fifteen years. Others offered newer solutions but didn’t offer the quality healthcare professionals wanted in practice management software.
Getting Appointmed Off the Ground Wasn’t Easy
The initial idea for appointmed was to be a straightforward booking site where patients could book appointments with a doctor. The founders built a prototype and contacted doctors and therapists for feedback.
Patrik says, “They said it was nice but did not solve the actual problem: the management of their doctor’s practice. They needed software that could streamline their entire business. Most doctors were still using pen and paper to keep track of everything, storing records in a shoebox in the attic, so to speak. So, we focused on full-service management instead.”
The founders then spent two years building multiple prototypes that led to an MVP for early adopters. Then in 2016, they officially incorporated the business. Once launched, the following three years were rough. The platform struggled to attract customers and only barely broke even.
“We tried everything in the books: cold email campaigns, cold calls – we even went door to door in Vienna handing out flyers for our startup. Nothing worked,” Patrik says. Then the founders relaunched their website in 2018, focusing heavily on search engine optimization to rank higher on Google. It worked.
The second thing that worked was referrals. Once customers started using the platform, they happily promoted appointmed to others. That strategy still works to this day. A hundred days after a customer subscribes, they get a notification asking to invite their friends and colleagues. If they also sign up, they get a little bonus from appointmed.
Patrik says, “We figured out the perfect timing to ask for the referrals, ensuring customers are at a point where they have made the most of our solution. At about three months in, they are the happiest because they have witnessed what the platform can do for their practice. Our customers have truly become brand advocates for appointmed.”
With the help of the above two strategies, business started to pick up in 2019. Currently, about 70 percent of appointmed’s growth comes from their existing users. As a result, the company doesn’t spend a single euro on paid ads to acquire customers and has doubled its annual revenue every year for the past three.
Appointmed doesn’t just rely on customers for referrals, but also product development. Patrik says, “Our team’s knowledge only goes so far. Our customers are the ones who tell us what they need and dictate the direction we take with the product. That’s why we regularly involve customers in the testing of prototypes. We take constructive feedback seriously and use it to build new features for appointmed.”
The Challenges of Your Startup Being a Side Gig
The founders freelanced or ran other businesses during appointed’s early years. Patrik, for example, consulted with startups in Austria and even a few in Silicon Valley. For the first four years of appointmed, this was his main source of income.
Slowly, one after the other, the founders transitioned to working on their startup full-time. Patrik says, “The most recent transition was just a year ago. We needed to generate enough revenue from the company to fund everyone’s life. Since all of us were making a good amount of money with our own businesses in the tech industry, it took some time for appointmed to cover a similar standard of living.”
Appointmed didn’t progress as quickly as they’d have liked, either. “We experienced internal struggles because there was always an issue of priority. Sometimes our priorities were somewhere else when they should have been appointmed. Sometimes we couldn’t or didn’t want to invest the necessary time,” Patrik says.
It was slow going in the beginning, so it was important for the team to acknowledge every milestone, no matter how small. They celebrated every trial sign-up and every new customer. Patrik says, “We made a point of celebrating all success to stay motivated. Because if your main business is making money and your side project isn’t, it can be hard to stay motivated and keep your eye on the future.”
Ask Yourself Whether You Need Funding
The founders tried to raise funding for appointmed for six months but failed miserably: “The venture capital funding scene is vastly different in Europe compared to the US,” Patrik says. “It’s often way less money for way more shares of your company. We talked to a lot of VCs and business angels and the answer was, ‘Build a product first and then we can discuss investing in it.’ But that just didn’t make sense to us. We needed the resources to build the product.”
As a result, the founders decided to fund the business themselves. Patrik and Bernhard invested a significant amount of their savings to pay the company bills, build the infrastructure, and hire a few consultants and freelancers to launch the first version of the product.
“We were just too scared to burn our hard-earned cash initially, so we went after investors. But in hindsight, that was a waste of time because we were able to fund it ourselves. We were lucky that we had the cash reserves to do that. And now we have a sustainable business that is a hundred percent in our hands. We don’t have to answer to any outside investors, we only answer to our customers,” Patrik says.
Patrik’s strategy is to keep the team as small as possible. As a SaaS startup, overheads are low and it’s easier to manage your team as a single unit. The founders have automated as much as possible internally so that they can scale the business without having to drastically expand the team.
Appointmed is also a remote company (and was long before Covid made it the norm). Everyone works wherever they feel most comfortable and creative. It also keeps costs low. While most of the team resides in Vienna, Austria, they have the freedom to jump on a plane and work from wherever they want – and do so regularly.
With a team of only five, appointmed has slowly been changing the healthcare sector. Patrik says, “I think our product – and products like ours – have made the industry more aware of how SaaS can provide real benefits to a traditional market. Now, there are no more data security concerns for them, no backups to worry about, no hardware infrastructure to maintain, and so on. There’s no downside to modernizing your practice.”
In the future, appointmed wants to open up to third-party developers. This will allow people to add their own products and apps on top of the platform, with appointmed being the central hub for healthcare professionals.
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