Geek Speak: Winnie Lai, cofounder of Clinicbook

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      Winnie Lai’s goal is to make healthcare more accessible to the public through the Internet. To this end, the 23-year-old, Hong Kong-born Burnaby resident is building Clinicbook, an online directory of health-care providers.

      Lai founded Clinicbook with Robin McFee and Joel Matsumoto, whom she met at the Vancouver Student Entrepreneurship Association at the University of British Columbia. In June, she graduated from UBC with a bachelor of applied science degree in engineering physics.

      Clinicbook launched last January. Lai, McFee, and Matsumoto’s company, Clinical Media, was incorporated in May and has obtained $85,000 in funding from angel investors. They’re now developing an online booking system for dentists in Vancouver. A pilot program will begin in January 2011. On December 1, the company was one of several startups that put on demos at Launch Party Vancouver 10.

      The Georgia Straight reached Lai by phone at Clinicbook’s office in Gastown.

      Where did you get the idea for Clinicbook?

      It came from my business partner Robin. Robin’s dad works at a walk-in clinic, so he gets a lot of feedback from the patients. One of the feedback was, “Is there a way to find out what the wait time is without having to call multiple clinics?” That’s a huge issue in Canada. People spend a lot of time waiting in the walk-in clinic before they can see their doctors. We thought why not solve this problem, because it’s a huge issue, right?

      We decided to build a website that would serve wait times for all walk-in clinics across Canada. That’s actually where the original idea came from. Before we could do that, we figured we had to build a search directory first that listed all the medical clinics. So, that’s how it got started. We started off with a search directory for healthcare, and we built the prototype for the wait time at a walk-in clinic. We have that up and running for one of the clinics in Surrey, actually. We’ve been working on that, and we saw another opportunity with the online appointment bookings.

      What was the biggest challenge you faced in starting up the company?

      We had all anticipated the stress. We’ve spoken to quite a number of people already about their experiences with starting their own companies. So, we kind of knew where we were heading. But I’d say the biggest challenge thus far would be, I guess, focusing on the business.

      You probably hear this with a lot of start-ups: there is a lot of things that they want to work on. They see a lot of different opportunities. The biggest factor why most businesses fail is that they try to do too much at once. Rather than focusing on one core business, they try to do too many things at once. For us, trying to focus on one product, rather than going after all these little features has been the most difficult part for us.

      How does Clinicbook aim to make money?

      We have two business models. One of them is through advertising. So, we’re able to serve some highly targeted ads on the website, just because of the nature of our audience. So, people coming to our website are looking for a doctor, and after they’ve seen the doctor they usually come out with a prescription. With their prescription, they need to know where the nearest pharmacy is, right? So, that’s where our value proposition is for our advertisers. We’re highly targeted contextually and also geographically. So, that’s one.

      The second revenue source comes from the booking system. So, we charge the dentist or the medical professional a fee every time someone uses our system to book an appointment. The biggest value proposition for those people is we’re able to help them with new patient acquisition.

      Do you hope the site will have some kind of impact on the health-care system?

      Oh yes, for sure. We definitely want to revolutionize the way consumer healthcare is right now by allowing people to find information on doctors’ availability more conveniently through the use of the Internet.

      What concerns do you have about the state of the health-care system in B.C.?

      I think one of the biggest challenges right now—or biggest concern—for most British Columbians would be the lack of family doctors. As far as we know, a lot of people don’t have a family doctor. So, I see that as a big concern for British Columbians and, I should say, Canadians in general.

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at