A Conversation With… Thriva’s Tom Livesey
Now more than ever there is a heightened awareness of the impact of our lifestyle on our bodies (and our lifestyle on the surrounding environment) evidenced not least by the exponential rise of veganism in public discourse.
Yet this knowledge must be accessible. And delivered with the utmost ease for the consumer. Look no further than the permeation of self-service and subscription eCommerce for the importance of accessibility across retail and consumerism.
Amidst this perfect storm of consumer trends, biodata start-up, Thriva, has flourished. The self-professed ‘preventative healthcare service’ tracks and improves your health by providing actionable data about the inner workings of the body. The pay-as-you-go medical testing subscription kit sells a promise that information equals control. Ultimate ownership of the self.
Users can test for a variety of blood markers looking at things such as whether “your lifestyle is putting your liver under pressure” as well as answering a short survey to receive personalised recommendations on what to test. There are also targeted tests available for people looking for information on their thyroid function or female hormones, for example.
Thriva has direct relationships with customers as well as with hundreds of personal trainers, dietitians and fertility experts, who use the company’s kits to test their own clients. Is this the solution to a cripplingly overburdened NHS? All important preventative healthcare can only be enriched with the biodata Thriva collects.
To hear more about the start-ups success, we talk with Thriva’s co-founder and CTO, Tom Livesey. After gaining a degree in Electronic Engineering, Livesey specialised in engineering and product management in technology startups. He co-founded Thriva in 2016 alongside Eliot Brooks and Hamish Grierson. Since then, Thriva has distributed more than 100,000 tests. It has secured over £3 million in equity financing from backers including Seedcamp, an early stage investor, and Alex Chesterman, the Zoopla founder.
With all three co-founders of tech backgrounds, it’s clear technology remains at the very core of Thriva’s product offering. It appears Thriva is at the vanguard of digital disruption; using transformative tech to reshape patient care. We are honoured to sit down with Tom to hear more about digital potential across healthcare and what the future holds for this incredibly fast growing UK based start-up.
Tell us a little about your background.
I have a background in product and engineering and have worked on various start-ups before founding Thriva. Before Thriva, I was working on a mobile payments start-up as well as consulting for other smaller start-ups. I love using technology to create great product experiences in industries where this is not the norm. There’s a lot of room for innovation.
What was the inspiration behind Thriva?
Eliot (one of my co-founders) had been managing a condition that required him to test regularly for many years. He found the entire process frustrating and disempowering, particularly the fact that he did not have access to his own data. Thriva was initially created as a way to solve this problem.
We quickly realised that this isn't something only relevant to people who are managing a specific condition. 'Sick' and 'well' aren't binary states and health isn't 'one size fits all'. We believe everyone can benefit from having a better understanding of what's going on inside their body in a way that’s personal and specific to them. Healthcare systems are best at treating people when they are sufficiently ill. We want to help people avoid getting there in the first place, have more control over their health, and live better for longer.
'Sick' and 'well' aren't binary states and health isn't 'one size fits all'.
What will Thriva never compromise on when ensuring customer satisfaction?
We will never compromise on the credibility of the products or services we provide. We value our customers' trust extremely highly. They need to know that what we tell them is reliable, whether that is test results or advice we offer. This sometimes means not offering products that we know would be popular but we don't believe are credible or provide real value.
Thriva capitalises on the self-service trend that is increasingly seen in retail and hospitality. How else can the healthcare industry learn from consumer industries?
Healthcare services will need to learn that a good user or product experience is table stakes now. Just because people are 'patients' doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get the same good experience that they have come to expect in other areas of their life. This is something we've seen change in other sectors, (e.g. financial technology). I hope and expect to see healthcare services and products become a lot more user-centric in the coming years.
Healthcare requires a lot of trust, how does Thriva ensure customers feel their information is in responsible hands? How does Thriva aim to be transparent?
Thriva was founded on the belief that everyone should be empowered with their own health data. We have always wanted to give customers complete control over what they do with their information. And we will only ever use it in ways that improves the product for them, and with their permission. We also understand that there is a lot of conflicting, confusing and dubious information out there when it comes to health. Anything we offer or advise will always be based on credible research that we make available to our customers.
Thriva's data could be extremely valuable to healthcare research. How is Thriva looking to offer its support?
Right now there’s very little longitudinal, general health data available before people enter a healthcare system or become sufficiently sick in some way. So the dataset that Thriva is building is extremely valuable. While we're not doing anything like this currently, in the future we want to work with third parties to help improve their research into preventative healthcare and how illness develops over time. This would only ever be with anonymised data and with users consent.
What is your relationship like with the NHS?
Thriva is already working with the Royal Brompton Hospital in a study aimed at helping patients with cystic fibrosis to manage their condition and testing in a more convenient way. We’re hugely supportive of the NHS and see many opportunities like this to work together in the future. It's clear that preventable diseases are putting the NHS under a huge amount of strain that’s not manageable long term. We want to help people to take control of their health and have more informed conversations with their doctors — hopefully keeping them out of the system altogether. This allows the NHS to focus on what it's best at.
How do you research and develop to cater to your users’ ever-growing needs and expertise?
Thriva is constantly looking to innovate in ways that will improve the product for our customers. Using cutting edge research, we offer new tests and evidence-based advice that will help our customers get a better understanding of their health. This also includes looking at how we can use other sources of data e.g. microbiome or sleep data alongside what we currently track to provide even more detailed insights. It's important for us to remember that while some of our customers are extremely knowledgeable, health can be very complex. And so it's our job to make this information simple to understand.
It's important for us to remember that while some of our customers are extremely knowledgeable, health can be very complex. And so it's our job to make this information simple to understand.
With the growth of wearable technology and remote monitoring, has Thriva considered going beyond digital? Or providing an app for users?
We don't have plans to work on any hardware in the short term, but we definitely see value in using other sources of data from devices like wearables. Often wearables end up in a kitchen drawer because while aiming for ten thousand steps a day is a good target, it doesn't tell us how it's impacting our health. We want to make this kind of tracking more valuable by helping people understand what it actually means for them. On the app front, we'll be launching something in the near future, so stay tuned!
What does the future hold for Thriva?
One of the things we are sure about is that the way we manage our health is going to change significantly over the next few years. We know more about our cars than our most valuable asset, our body, and we think that's crazy. Proactive, personalised health tracking will become the norm and we plan to be the product that most people choose to bring into their lives. We've got big plans in terms of new types of tests, collection methods and product features. But fundamentally, we want to continue to create a product people love that helps them understand their health better and ultimately live better for longer.
‘We know more about our cars than our most valuable asset, our body, and we think that's crazy.’
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Don't underestimate the importance of focus. This is something I'm sure the team are sick of hearing me say but I think it's the only way that most start-ups can succeed. Focus doesn't mean saying 'no' to all the bad ideas, it means saying 'no' to great ideas that aren't the most important thing you can be working on right now.
Anything else we should know?
We're hiring! We've got some big challenges ahead of us and are looking for talented people to join our fantastic team.
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