Inder Singh, Founder of Kinsa

Kinsa is an innovative San Francisco-based start-up (backed by Kleiner Perkins, First Mark Capital and Founder Collective) creating a real-time health map by leveraging its smart thermometers to get a sense of where people are experiencing the flu (using anonymous data). Their "illness signal" beats the CDC on timing by weeks and accounts for people beyond just those that see a doctor (which is how CDC tracks). I sat down with Founder Inder Singh to discuss his mission-driven company and why they decided to spend their marketing dollars into social impact.
Afdhel Aziz: Where did the inspiration for Kinsa come from? What problem were you trying to solve?
Inder Singh: When it comes to understanding the health situation around us, we’re in the dark ages -- we have no idea where illness is starting or spreading. I realized this at a system level as I was trying to increase access to life-saving treatment for children in my work as the Executive VP of the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), and then on a personal level when I came down with a mysterious illness myself. It’s shocking when you realize how much real-time, crowdsourced information we have about so many aspects of our lives - from how much our neighbor’s house costs to which side street will get us home fastest. And yet we have no idea what’s circulating around us -- something that would have helped when doctors were trying to treat me after eight days of 104 fever. Infectious illness is the leading cause of death in young children around the world. At Kinsa, we believe it’s the biggest problem in healthcare globally. We also believe the only way to stop illness from spreading is to know where and when it’s starting. I founded Kinsa with that mission --  to track, and ultimately stop the spread of illness.
The Kinsa app and product

In order to aggregate the data on where and when illness is spreading, and also to help someone in his or her moment of need, we needed a way to speak with people as soon as they or a loved one fell ill. Because every parent almost everywhere in the world grabs a thermometer when their child isn’t feeling well, the idea of using a “smart” thermometer as an entry point was born. With nearly two million users of our smart thermometers, we now have a communication platform with individuals and communities.
Aziz: What is the Purpose of Kinsa - how would you articulate it?
Singh: Kinsa is on a mission to track, and ultimately stop the spread of illness. We re-imagined the first product you turn to when feeling sick, transforming an ordinary thermometer into a communication system. Kinsa thermometers and the apps that accompany them help in your moment of need, offering personalized guidance, services and information about illnesses circulating nearby so you can get better faster. Schools, health organizations, pharmacies and big brands also use Kinsa, the earliest and most accurate illness tracking system in the world, to detect outbreaks and respond accordingly.
Aziz: And what results have you seen so far?
Singh: Kinsa has demonstrated its ability to successfully help people in their moment of need: for example, 9 of 10 users with a cough respond to a series of follow-up questions (including to listening to identifying cough sounds) to receive guidance. Kinsa’s illness detection and tracking system has been validated by academic researchers as best-in-class. Industry partners currently use Kinsa’s illness insights – which have been shown to track the spread of influenza earlier, more accurately, and with greater geographical precision than any other data sources – to prevent stock-outs of medicines, ensure an adequate supply of flu vaccines, and target sick populations with public health messages. 
Aziz: Why did you make the decision to put 50% of your marketing budget into social impact?
Singh: Coming from a public health background, my vision was always to build a model where we could give away medically essential products for free to the communities that need them most. While I’d love to ultimately do that for entire regions and even countries, I knew that I needed to first test it on a smaller scale. Because children so often get sick and spread germs to others at their school, the FLUencyschool health program made sense. By giving out thermometers to entire elementary schools, we had the opportunity to positively impact these school families while refining our model of helping people in their moment of need and curbing illness spread -- which, especially for lower income schools, is important because absenteeism doesn’t only negatively affect learning; it leads to decreases in funding.
Aziz: And what have been some of the results of that decision?
Singh: Very quickly, we began to see the measurable impact our FLUency school health program was having on early illness detection, with families reporting back that they caught illnesses such as fifth’s disease and infections earlier through Kinsa’s anonymous in-app forums. What we weren’t sure about was how, as a small startup, we’d be able to continue to scale the program to help more schools. The most exciting result of our decision to start the program is that large, like-minded companies have joined us, partnering to fund a much bigger program and help curb the spread of illness.
For the past two years, Kinsa has partnered with Lysol, who sponsored the program enabling them to offer significantly more families and schools the moment-of-need benefits of FLUency, as well as distributing more disinfectants and thermometers to thousands of schools. FLUency now has a presence in classrooms in roughly 11,000 elementary schools, 10%, across the U.S. Amongst Parents, three out of four agree that FLUency made their life easier during cold and flu season (out of 1,400 respondents). And amongst school nurses, 90% agree that FLUency kept them more informed of illnesses going around their school. As a result, we plan to continue to grow the FLUency program not just in the U.S. but internationally in the future.