How my health app saved an entrepreneur

I came to the Bay Area 4 years ago from Gothenburg University in Sweden, as a visiting PhD fellow at the School of Public health at UC Berkeley.

In 2014, I set up my company First Derm in the Bay Area. As all entrepreneurs know, startups are hard and sometimes you have dark moments where you feel like giving up (and by sometimes I mean every day).

But there are also many moments that remind you why you started in the first place. This story is one of them.

500 Startup Batch 18 happy hour

One Friday evening in October 2016, I was invited to the 500 startups happy hour. Like all founders do, we pitched our company to each other. I chatted with Ricardo Ibarra, the founder and CEO of Auctio, and he asked to try my tele-dermatology service on a mole on his left arm.

The next morning, he woke up to an answer from a board-certified dermatologist on the First Derm app:

First Derm, dermatologist’s answer within 6 hours

Skin cancer is one of the fastest growing forms of cancer in the US

Due to longer life expectancy and thus more exposure to sun, skin cancer increases by over 5% every year in the Northern America, Europe and Australasia.

Malignant melanoma is the most severe form of skin cancer, but 95% of patients can survive it —that is, if you discover it early enough. It’s also the only form of cancer that you can see. But research has shown that people often wait to treat skin lesions, because it might not be painful at the time or it simply takes long to schedule a dermatologist’s appointment.

LinkedIn message

I didn’t hear from Ricardo until March 2017 (3 weeks ago).

LinkedIn, message from Ricardo Ibarra

We met up in the city and decided to get his story out.

Prior to learning about First Derm, Ricardo had suspected that there might be something wrong with a changing mole on his left arm. But he didn’t have the time to go to a doctor or a dermatologist. Running a startup meant long hours on the grind and setting aside as much time as possible for his wife Victoria and three-year-old daughter Victoria Emilia. After all, flying back and forth between New York and San Francisco didn’t leave much room for a doctor’s appointment.

Patient delay

Even when Ricardo got the answer that his mole was possibly a malignant melanoma, he didn’t tell his wife until his return to New York and did not see a dermatologist until three months later. Ricardo recalled the moment he received the answer, “I woke up freaking out and thought, ‘This is going to be bad.’”

His wife’s insistence got him into a dermatologist’s office in New York. A biopsy confirmed the answer from First Derm. And within a week, the dermatologist removed the malignant melanoma with 5mm margins. Ricardo now has a scar, but he has fully recovered and he is more aware of his skin health than ever.

Ricardo showing off his recovery

Ricardo’s advice to other founders

“I know there are many [people] like me who don’t have time to take care of themselves. I want to tell my story to bring awareness to skin cancer. First Derm is a very simple product, and can be used by anyone, anywhere, and has the potential to save your life.”

Not only did I make a new friend, but First Derm has also been validated by saving Ricardo’s life. My encounter with Ricardo has shown me that First Derm saves people’s lives by giving them quicker access to dermatologists for a first step on what to do next. And that alone is enough to fuel my passion as a health entrepreneur.

Meanwhile at First Derm, we’re continuing to figure out how to “scale” our life-saving dermatology service, to help as many people as possible around the world.


See Ricardo’s malignant melanoma images on First Derm

This is the startup Ricardo founded

Share this story to bring awareness

The month of May is Skin Cancer Awareness month. If you like the story, please share it — it might save someone’s life.

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