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Making Corporate Wellness Fun

Social gaming and wellness start-up Keas raises $6.5 million after a change in direction yields results.

Keas is an online platform that gives patients interactive software for improving their health.

Keas founder Adam Bosworth served as chief of Google Health.

Keas founder Adam Bosworth served as chief of Google Health.

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Health gaming start-up Keas has raised $6.5 million in its second round of funding, the company announced. Atlas Ventures and Ignition Partners led the deal.

The San Francisco-based company, founded by Google Health chief Adam Bosworth, is a mashup of corporate wellness, moral, social networking, and social gaming. Its clients include Pfizer, Bechtel, and others. Its platform, the company says, is designed to create "happier, healthier, more engaged employees." At Progress Software, for example, 63 percent of participants lost weight and 36 percent reported an improvement in their stress levels using Keas.

Bosworth, who also worked as Microsoft and co-founded software developer Crossgain, has a history with Ignition. He and Ignition's Brad Silverberg, another former Microsoft executive, worked together in the mid-1980s, at two other software companies.

"The real problem is motivation, and that’s where Keas comes in," Bosworth said in a press release when the company closed its first round. "It’s Facebook meets Farmville: social, playful and an experience that employees can actually have fun with. That’s the secret sauce, and that’s why it works.”

The $6.5 million cash infusion will go towards building its distribution channels and beefing up its sales and marketing teams.

The barely two-year-old company has done some pivoting since its splashy debut in October 2009. With articles in the New York Times and the The Wall Street Journal blog, the company launched its online systema marketplace of care plans for consumersfor free.

The big idea behind Keas was that health experts would design online care plans for use on the Keas website, and consumers would choose the plans that suited their health goalslosing weight, reducing cholesterol, the works. Some 30,000 people registered, but the idea didn't take off: Consumers weren't really willing to pay for its service and menu of care plans, and doctors make money from seeing patients in the office, not online. (Keas's original business plan called for taking a 30 percent cut of revenue when customers bought a care plan.)

By December 2009 Bosworth realized the company would have to pivot.

"We have tens of thousands of users right now; That’s not as many as we want," Bosworth said in a 2010 interview. "Originally we wanted to have about 100,000 users by now. By the end of the year our goal is to have at least one million users and at least 10 million by the end of next year. That’s just within the U.S., but we are under enormous pressure from other countries.” By November 2010, the company had turned to corporate wellness, offering interactive software to consumers to help them improve their health. (Read an account of the pivot here.)

"We said ‘Aha, this might not be a great business model,’” Bosworth said. “This happens to start-ups, it’s not a cause for instant panic.”

The pivot paid off and Keas has had many successes since its new founding: "At Chilton Hospital, a non-profit hospital with 1,300 employees, 40 percent of eligible employees registered for the Keas challenge. In addition to the 1,230 pounds Chilton Hospital employees shed during the 12-week challenge, 73 percent of Keas players reported feeling more positive towards their employer and 64 percent thought the experience made them more productive at work. By the end of the Keas challenge, 88 percent of players reported that they would remain proactive about their health as a result of the program.”

Last updated: Dec 22, 2011

Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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