The reputation of the medical supply store industry has never been considered particularly sexy or modern. The three founders and digital health pioneers Arlett Chlupka, Simon Maass, and Florian Birner (both Maass and Birner being WHU alumni) couldn’t agree more. With their Hamburg-based company meevo healthcare, they want to turn the compression, bandage, and insole industry upside down - above all with a completely new digital component. This is something that has been completely lacking up to now. While more than 70 percent of Germans suffer from foot malpositions, leg length differences, or the consequences of posture problems, hardly anyone goes to the medical supply store for prevention. The new offer from meevo Healthcare is also designed to appeal to young people and athletes in order to prevent health problems from arising in the first place. Well-known investors have already welcomed the idea and invested more than three million euros in the company, which was founded in 2018.
1. With meevo healthcare, you're setting your sights on a billion-dollar market that has been completely closed off to date. What exactly does your company want to revolutionize and how difficult was it to literally gain a foothold in this quasi-closed system?
Simon Maass: What we are aiming for with meevo and with craftsoles is contemporary access to assistive devices. Just as it is from almost all other facets of everyday life, it is about time the healthcare industry also becomes more digital and thus more accessible.
Florian Birner: We want to establish modern care paths in place of old structures. To do this, we must first and foremost break up old structures in order to assert ourselves in this very regulated market. Our approach is new, so we had to overcome some hurdles to prove ourselves in the existing market.
SM: Our goal is to bring a breath of fresh air to the industry. This is not easy in such a complex system. We first acquired in-depth content-based knowledge and strived to familiarize ourselves with and understand existing regulations. In the past three years, there has been a lot of headwind because our approach initially caused quite a stir in this entrenched environment. What we see as our great advantage, however, is precisely this new, customer-oriented approach, which sets us apart from previous structures.
2. Why was there so little movement and innovation in this market in the past, and what are you doing differently with the help of digitization?
FB: The market itself is very well established. Customers go through the typical customer journey and come to the partner medical supply store via the treating physician. The established system has been maintained because it worked, but not necessarily in the customer’s best interest. In addition, access for those outside the industry is not particularly high due to low product attractiveness, and the inhibition threshold to tamper with such fixed regulations is correspondingly high.
SM: In addition to such entry barriers, the existing lack of transparency also plays a major role. For example, there are hardly any comparison portals where customers can give feedback. As a rule, it is not apparent to them how the pricing of a medical supply store's over-the-counter sales is determined. The fact that the system operates "behind closed doors" is deadly for innovation and also part of the reason for the stagnation of the industry because customers and their needs are not dealt with directly. You could say that existing medical supply stores don't know that changes are called for because they simply do not want to hear about it.
Arlett Chlupka: We put customers at the core of what we do and want to listen more to their needs. We don't operate under the mindset of "What are our limits and what can we do?" but rather, “What would be the best thing for customers?”. We are rethinking the customer journey and trying to pull out all the stops to establish it sustainably in the healthcare sector.
SM: Digitization helps us as a "means to an end" to improve various topics within existing scales in the long term for the benefit of the customer.
3. Can aids such as insoles or support stockings really ever become hip, or can they also be reinvented in a much more modern way?
FB: Of course. Insoles are already hip. We have already launched an insole that is modern – a far cry away from thick, immobile, cork-leather insoles to flexible, dynamic carbon insoles. We also offer our customers the option of customizing their insoles with different covers, such as hygienic silver covers.
SM: The question is whether the effect of the insoles is hip enough. After all, you're doing something for your health. We already show that health products themselves can also be interpreted in a more modern way with craftsoles, and you can also see this in a variety of other products, such as compression running socks.
AC: One of the biggest trends of today is "healthstyle". Many more people are already concerned with their own health, even at a young age, and are gearing their lives accordingly. The combination of an attractive lifestyle product and its health relevance is the key to success for us.
4. You have now also launched a new type of product on the market with craftsoles. What does it do and how were you able to convince the first health insurance company that this is the way forward?
AC: Craftsoles stands for health, lifestyle, and prevention, and it's all about being easily accessible, fast, and convenient. The process improvement is overwhelming, as we reduce the time required for craftsoles from up to three to four weeks down to one week. For the first time, the customer is directly involved in the care process, which makes the product much more attractive to them. With craftsoles, we have succeeded in providing customers with outpatient care that is of the same quality, if not better, than the previous inpatient care.
FB: We were able to present BARMER with a new, customer-oriented process that offers high attractiveness levels for younger insurance clients, making it almost inevitable for health insurance companies to create this access for their customers. Nevertheless, lengthy negotiations, testing, and process optimization were a large part of this success.
5. What are your goals for meevo Healthcare and your craftsoles product in the coming years, and what kind of awareness for prevention would you like to see in Germany in the future?
AC: For us, the industry means moving forward in a timely manner as well as supporting a shift in awareness. Insoles are not only a medically acute, helpful approach, but also useful well before the first symptoms emerge. If our work succeeds in improving access to orthopedic insoles, we can also demonstrate in the long term that prevention does not have to involve lengthy, costly processes. This is the approach we would like to see throughout the healthcare industry as well.
SM: The assistive device market is far from exhausted and unfortunately still very underestimated so far, although the potential is there. Awareness is still certainly underdeveloped, and that's where we see our "teaching mission" to educate about preventative products. Medical aids must not only function in the sense that they ensure the user a 100 percent recovery of physical abilities but must also function beyond that and be able to exploit 110 percent of the available potential. Exoskeletons are a tangible example - that's how we think of assistive devices. That's why we want meevo to become the largest provider of assistive devices in Germany.
FB: To speak in numbers, after breaking the regulated market, we hope to generate 100 million euros in sales per year in the next three years.