The LGBT Community Gave ProofPilot a Competitive Advantage

Prior to launching ProofPilot, I was a consultant to academic and government researchers deploying online research studies to test the efficacy of different HIV prevention strategies. The experience helped us find innovative solutions to the persistent recruitment issues plaguing researchers. It also prepares us to support the complex multi-facetted studies required to uncover the next wave of healthcare breakthroughs.

Gay men, one of the highest risk groups for HIV infection, are tech early adopters. Gay men were online in large numbers before Amazon, Netflix and Tindr were household names. We got very good at recruiting and engaging men online. We introduced (and got regulatory and ethical approval) for things like participant registration via Facebook, and tracking participant referrals via social networks. Our insights feature provided feedback participants specifically joined a study to get.

But, every study we did was a disaster. It takes about a year for a team of highly qualified PhDs to plan a research study, and even then few end on time or budget. As a web development and marketing consultancy, we added another complicated management process on top. Apple’s ResearchKit didn’t exist yet, but that wouldn’t have made much of a difference — it’s just another development framework. Researchers figured it was as easy to change an online experience and database as it was to update their MS word study protocol document. (For those who don’t know, it’s not).

Before every new contract, I looked for a solution. I wanted something that didn’t require developers. I wanted something that made it really easy to design and launch a study that people actually wanted to participate in. I wanted to put all of the marketing automation tools we’d used to successfully engage gay men into a solution that worked — automatically.

I figured, if tech made it possible for anyone to be a journalist, an investor, or a filmmaker — there needed to be technology that allowed anyone to be a researcher. It didn’t exist. And that’s when we developed the first version of ProofPilot.

Typically when you think of research tools — you think pharmaceutical clinical trials. That’s likely where most research solutions come from. On the surface, that appears to be the biggest market. Pharma companies spend $22 billion a year on mostly manual clinical trials. However, I didn’t have that experience. What I did have was a unique perspective that ultimately gave ProofPilot a significant advantage. Beyond the online experience, the HIV studies we worked on focused on prevention. These studies looked beyond a pill. They looked at interventions to change people’s behavior within unique environments and settings.

If we’d started in pharma, I think we would have been to narrowly focused on just bio-medical interventions. We would not be prepared for the next generation of research breakthroughs that will find solutions via a combination of biomedical, behavioral, genetic, and environmental factors. These kinds of studies are far more complex than your typical pharma study. And, ultimately that’s where the next wave of health solutions are going to come from. And we’re prepared because we’ve been there.

While ProofPilot continues to support several researchers conducting HIV prevention studies, our topic focus is much broader now. Researchers are designing studies in social services, education, fitness, productivity, and psychology on a new version of the product released earlier this fall. But, we still go back to some of those early (and very difficult days) of designing studies for gay men to prevent HIV for new feature inspiration to solve problems we see across research sectors.