The Liv app is now used in nearly 300 general practices. Yet the success of Coachjezelf, the Groningen startup that developed the tool, has not come easy. An interview with co-founder and director Jean-Luc Donders about increasing pressure on practice supporters, moving with online opportunities and the value of feedback.
The first entrepreneurial lesson I learned? Jean-Luc Donders does not have to think for long. 'That it takes time and attention to get parties involved in your business on the same page,' he says decidedly. 'When I was just starting out, I assumed that my cooperation partners had the same dream and vision as myself. Gradually came the realization that everyone has their own interests and goals for getting into something. From that moment it was clear to me that I had to make it clear to everyone individually what it would actually benefit them. Since then we have really started to make strides with Coachjezelf.'
Increase in psychological complaints
That dream, which Jean-Luc was just talking about, had everything to do with facilitating the work in general practices. And specifically, the work of mental health practice managers (POH-GGZ). At the time, some seven years ago, he was working as a physician visitor in the pharmaceutical industry and noticed a sharp increase in patients with burnout and other mental health complaints. 'Combined with rising costs and a staff shortage, this was putting a lot of pressure on general practice,' Jean-Luc looks back on the very beginning. 'At the same time, the advance of digitization in society was in full swing. I knew that this offered opportunities for healthcare as well. Moreover, as a professional, I wanted to actively move with those online possibilities. I thought: why don't I develop a tool with which patients can also work on their problems in their free time?'
Demonstrable added value
The idea culminated a few years later in the founding of Coachjezelf. In close cooperation with internet agency Coolminds and the Hanzehogeschool Groningen, Liv was then developed, an online tool to coach patients with mild psychological complaints better and more effectively. Thanks in part to investments from NOM and G-Force Capital, the application had a successful launch in 2019. Indeed, almost 300 Dutch general practices are already using Liv. To their full satisfaction, that's for sure. Completely without bumps, however, the road towards it was not without its problems. Or rather, it was rather a necessary bump, a stepping stone towards the ultimate goal: developing a tool that is of demonstrable added value for both the POH-GGZ and patients.
'We initially ran a pilot with Liv,' Jean-Luc explains. It didn't really catch on with patients. To identify their real needs in detail and understand them even better, we started asking for more feedback. By listening carefully and making targeted adjustments based on their input, we drastically changed Liv. From then on, we started to grow incrementally. Again, an important entrepreneurial lesson: make sure you always stay in conversation with customers, gather feedback and apply it. So what do they need, where is their problem and how can I respond to that with my proposition? We are still quite small, but I think Coachjezelf is one of the parties that does the most with the feedback from their users. I notice that GP practices, healthcare groups and patients appreciate that.
Jean-Luc's love for the healthcare sector has always been there. Nurtured by his father who is an internist and his mother who works as a manager in the UMCG. At the same time, he is also married to a general practitioner. Yet after high school, Jean-Luc decided to study commercial economics and business administration. 'I found sales very interesting from a young age, especially in combination with marketing,' he clarifies. 'I've always liked to think about that a little deeper and broader. About how to market and sell innovations, for example.'
Soon after completing his studies, he landed a job as a physician visitor in the pharmaceutical industry. There he laid an important foundation for the rest of his career, he says. 'As a physician visitor, you receive excellent training, learn how to approach doctors and how not to, and build a valuable network. Moreover, the work never comes at you; you always have to be on the lookout. In addition, the conversations with doctors are very short, so you have to get to the point quickly. And yes, of course I am reaping the benefits of that now as an entrepreneur.
After several years of working in multiple sales positions at the pharmaceutical company, Jean-Luc thought it was time to see if he could perhaps use the knowledge and skills he had gained to start his own business. So, inspired by his interest and belief in e-health, this eventually resulted in the creation of Coachjezelf and the development of Liv. How does he explain the application's success? 'I am convinced that the way we collect and apply feedback has largely contributed to that. It has therefore become a low-threshold app, supportive of the journey with the healthcare provider, with relatively simple exercises that allow patients to work on their recovery even outside physical appointments. But also the fact that we turned to Flinc at an early stage proved to be an important factor. Flinc helped us a lot in sharpening the business case and explained what was needed to raise funding.'
Speaking of funding. Recently, the NOM and G-Force Capital decided to provide Coachjezelf with follow-up funding. Why, really? 'In addition to scaling up Liv to even more general practices, we are busy using the application more widely than just for psychological complaints,' Jean-Luc explains. 'Because in our view Liv can also play an important role for lifestyle-related conditions such as diabetes and obesity, in terms of support and prevention. In order to make the application ready for this and market it successfully, money is obviously needed. Like NOM and G-Force Capital, I have every confidence that it will succeed. One thing is certain: I will continue to dream, with the knowledge that you cannot do it on your own and must therefore ensure that you get all those involved on board.'