Hayden, one of the co-founders of the Firstcheck skin app, reflects on the Firstcheck journey so far…

The dream

Today is a day when I have had the sense that a dream is becoming a reality – and that is one special feeling.

I have just boarded a plane with Firstcheck co-founder, Frank, and we are off to Noosa for the Asia Pacific Dermatology Conference.

Little more than 8 months ago, we started with the idea of saving lives by facilitating the early detection of skin cancer. And here we are today, about to share our story with the rest of the New Zealand dermatologists – as well as every Australian and Japanese dermatologist! A little intimidating perhaps, but hey, much easier when you’re motivated by a good cause.

Undoubtedly that is the one thing that has meant that Firstcheck is here today. Every single one of the Firstcheck team has made career sacrifices and committed sweat (no tears so far!) and a reduced income to work towards the Firstcheck cause.

Firstcheck has a strong sense of purpose and meaning and that has been a key motivating factor. It has somehow made possible 80 hour working weeks, sleep deprivation, and family sacrifices (I love you Mum, even if I see you less these days!)

A lesson we learned very early on, courtesy of the amazing Start-up Weekend experience, is that ideas are but a small piece of a project. It is the power of the people and the team that is what matters. And execution is key.

The team

We have somehow (and admittedly a bit by serendipity or happy accident) formed a formidable team around Firstcheck.

I thank New Plymouth, with its ability to attract internationals to the province, for bringing Frank. Picture a big cuddly teddy bear with a love for cool projects and a master of all things IT. That’s Frank.

Dee, coder extraordinaire and jack of all things IT. What a find he’s been.

Dr Tom. What a guy. Despite being madly busy he still makes time to take his daughter to concerts – and I’m glad he does as that was where we met. A shared passion for helping improve people’s access to health care brought us together.

Bronwen, who runs a company of virtual assistants, and is used to making everything and anything magically happen. A perfect start-up team member 😉

But dermatology projects require a dermatologist, right? And start-up has no budget, right? Thank goodness for people in this world like Dr Ian Coutts. Ian has selflessly contributed his time to the Firstcheck cause, for which we will be forever grateful. Early on Ian could see the potential and the beneficial patient outcomes.

But for what felt like an eternity, before Firstcheck could show itself to the world, we spent countless hours coding, researching, studying and working out quite how to make all this possible. That was the most challenging time – with limited input from the outside world.

The reality

It wasn’t until we had a working app and prototype to show that we felt we could meet with the key industry players.

I must admit organising meetings from New Plymouth with the Ministry of Health, and medical industry regulators, Cancer Society, Health Promotion Agency, the President of the NZ Dermatological Society, all felt a bit strange. What would these people make of a small Taranaki start-up? We knew we were a great fit with these organisations’ objectives, and would help improve patient outcomes but how would these guys feel about this start-up in their space? I wish we had have engaged earlier as we received such a warm welcome to the world of skin health – including being:

  • sponsored by the Ministry to attend an international medical expo (as a Kiwi digital health start-up);
  • invited to attend the Asia Pacific Dermatology Conference;
  • accepted into a clinical study by a District Health Board (DHB); and
  • assisted with industry contacts.

Every where we turn we have met the most supportive people, passionate about what we’re trying to achieve. That has really helped build momentum.

I was overwhelmed by the interest of patients at Dr Coutts’ NZ Dermatology and Skin Cancer Clinic in the product and willingness to trial the app and Firstcheck SkinScope™. That was special. Testing on ourselves was great, but now this was the real deal and our eyes opened to the impact of these tools and technology on people’s lives. So releasing the apps to the app store, while scary for a first timer felt strangely like a giving gift to everyone who finds it. I just hope Firstcheck’s full potential is realised.

And now the Noosa Conference is but another step in the life of Firstcheck. We can only hope that more are as visionary as Dr Coutts and welcome Firstcheck into their world in order to help New Zealanders. Our budget extended to a banner and some posters, so hopefully we don’t look too out of place in our stall next to the likes of Johnson & Johnson 😉

The support we receive here will have a big say in the shape the future of Firstcheck. For our sake, and the skin health of all New Zealanders, we have our fingers crossed for further support from dermatologists. One of the many lessons from Firstcheck so far is quite how impressive dermatologists are and how specialised they are. You can’t but have a healthy dose of respect for their skin capabilities.

What next?

I already feel extremely privileged to have experienced the awesomeness of an idea and a dream becoming a reality.

And where to next? Well, watch this space…