The messenger of Amsterdam-based startup Siilo was created with an aim to make normal days for healthcare workers easier and better. But it turns out during these extraordinary days when the COVID-19 pandemic peaked, it really proved its worth. For co-founder and CEO Joost Bruggeman, the pandemic emphasised the use for his product. But it also made clear which parts were neglected and where there is work to be done.
The free messenger app Siilo was specifically created for healthcare professionals. The medtech startup was founded in 2016 by Arvind Rao, Jan-Joost Rueb, Joost Bruggeman, and Onno Bakker and aims to connect medical professionals with relevant colleagues or experts, while safeguarding patient privacy and online security. A quick way for people working in health care to connect, share knowledge or ask questions. It enables ‘networked medicine’, as CEO Joost Bruggeman describes it. During his time as a medical professional, he found out communication is bound by invisible silo’s. In a time when hospital workers are working frantically to battle an unknown virus, communication is key.
Siilo raised a significant amount of money in a seed-funding round two years ago. In October 2018 they got €4.5 million in a round led by EQT Ventures. This set them up for success, but now it is time to take it to the next level. Bruggeman: “Investors see that our technology is very promising. Their question then is: ‘can you scale it?’ In 2018, we were very focused on our home country, while also trying to create the playbook for our growth. Now, we figured that out.”
Surge in users
But then the pandemic struck. And while many entrepreneurs could toss their playbooks in the bin, for Bruggeman the crisis meant everything accelerated. Siilo seemed to be made for a pandemic. According to Bruggeman, they had already tripled their user base since the last investment. But in the hectic days during the peak of the pandemic, their messenger turned out to be healthcare professionals’ tool of choice, as they saw a huge influx of new users.
“In the Dutch healthcare sector our app is already on the phone of 75 percent of the professionals”, he says. But the real growth is across the border from Siilo’s homeland. Bruggeman says he has seen enormous spikes in usage in Ireland, where they claimed a growth rate of 500 percent over the past couple of months. Usage in Germany, the UK and Belgium nearly doubled. And in The Netherlands, the app quickly proved its worth.
“During the crisis, we helped ‘GGD’ public health regions form communication platforms for free crisis management. They had a lot of organiszing to do, but lacked the communication tools. Many of them did everything by phone, which was impossible most of the time. Siilo created curated networks in which healthcare professionals connect to all the relevant professionals in their region.”
Bruggeman says their networked medicine approach sees three different types of groups emerge on their platform. Hospital groups saw all staff of hospitals organize and allowed administrators in the building to quickly broadcast important messages. Peer-to-peer networks gathered specialists to discuss insights relating their field of expertise. And regional networks, such as the above mentioned GGD-ones, gather decisionmakers in a certain area to coördinate how to best tackle the problem. Bruggeman: “We could quickly form these groups and jump through the silo’s that normally exist in health care.”
Perfect tool for a pandemic
Siilo was always built to bring health care into this century. It is to enable quick and easy communication in a professional environment where the fax machine is still a common sight. It has to be safe, compliant with regulations like GDPR and privacy friendly, unlike email is. Last but not least, it needed to break down the invisible silos in healthcare communications, so that relevant specialists can always find each other and communicate. Even when other communication lines, such as the phone, are overburdened. Bruggeman seemed to have built the perfect communication tool for health care professionals to deal with a global pandemic, without even realizing it at the time. “It never rose in my mind that we would be dealing with a pandemic like this. No, never. But this pandemic has made it super clear that all teams in health care need to be able to work together.”
Connect and Prisma
The fact that Siilo is free to use, is without doubt a big part of its success. Running a messenger is not free though. Siilo has several paid products that tie into the messenger service to provide extra functionality. The first one is called Connect, which offers extra features and an even more robust security. It enables access control and offers remote wipe in case a device is gone missing. Bruggeman says this is a product they mostly sell to hospitals that want all their employees on board.
One of the latest hospitals on board is the Klinikum Region Hannover (KRH) in Germany, with 8500 employees that treat 135,000 inpatients and 160,000 outpatients every year. They were working with print newsletters and intranet that was only accessible through desktop. Siilo jumped in to create an organisational network that could be accessed anywhere, whenever needed. According to Siilo, within just three months of usage, the staff at KRH have already exchanged 178.300 messages sharing critical information like hygiene guidelines and numbers of COVID-19 patients.
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The second product is Prisma, which offers a network of medical specialists available for general practitioners in The Netherlands. Bruggeman describes it as a virtual hospital in your pocket. By giving general practitioners direct access to the vast knowledge of medical specialists, they won’t have to refer patients to a hospital as often. Decreased referrals save a lot of money in health care costs, which justifies the price for Prisma. Bruggeman: “It’s like a Quora for medical professionals.”
‘New product offerings’
These features are extra, as the main messenger is free to use. And it is not a finished product, but keeps on developing, as Bruggeman says. “There were some parts of the app that we neglected, but that surged during the pandemic. For instance, when you look at the profile of a Siilo-user, you can send a message or start a voip call. We saw a massive rise in voip calls, because normal phones were regularly overburdened. We didn’t expect this to be so big all of sudden, so we really need to invest in this feature.”
Adding new features and improving existing ones should keep the startup growing, says Bruggeman: “The ideal situation is that we reach in Germany, Ireland, the UK and Belgium what we’ve already accomplished in the Netherlands. At the same time we will develop new product offerings. In The Netherlands we will expand on Connect and Prisma, but are looking at similar products for other countries to bring in revenue and help medical professionals to do their job better.”