We continue our dive into the founder series by uncovering the stories behind the top health and wellness professionals. Today we share Michael’s story who has developed a New York-based app to fix the paediatric healthcare system. Catch up on the previous Founder Series articles here.
Michael Demetriou, founder and CEO of Opear, New York’s first app for paediatric healthcare house calls.
What is your superhero origin story? Please, do let us know what your superhero nickname would be as well, in case you have one!
It was 2016, and I had been working on the early version of Opear which focused on childcare instead of house calls. I was working around the clock and flying back and forth between New York and San Francisco, but things weren’t clicking. So I took a day off, shut off my phone, and spent the day exploring New York with my 4-year-old son, Michael. I had him try my favourite lemonade, brought him to his first Globetrotters game, and watched him run around the Empire State Building like it was the most amazing place he’d ever seen.
And suddenly, it’s like I got the “power of sight.”
I was completely present and clear for the first time in my life. I could see through all the walls that had been blocking me and see Opear’s future and what I needed to do to get there. We were going to ‘save the day’ parents, and we were going to do it by fixing the paediatric healthcare system.
What was your eureka moment, and how did you test your idea?
I had two eureka moments; the first was that day in New York when I understood what Opear could offer parents. But the second was when I realized this was a model provider needed just as badly. I was having drinks with a Nurse Practitioner, telling her about the patterns, pain points, and data that all pointed to a growing need for house calls within paediatric healthcare. She smiled at me, and what she said next took me aback.
Over the next hour, she pulled back the curtain on the “black market” of unsanctioned house calls, all the late-night texts and the favours to friends. What was going on seemed relatively safe, but it wasn’t legal or compliant. It certainly wasn’t convenient or scalable. Brick and mortar practices just couldn’t keep up with demand, and with a new baby born every 4.4 seconds, someone needed to fill in the gaps.
What’s your competitive advantage when it comes to the industry?
The straightforward answer is that Opear is currently the only house call app serving New York, as well as the only one specializing in paediatric healthcare. But also, our model and motivation are driven by families, not just profit. While most telemedicine and HealthIT companies are trying to “disrupt” the brick-and-mortar system, we’re trying to complement it – at least for now. Only by working hand-in-hand with brick and mortar practices can we all meet demand, reduce wait times, and offer personal, undivided attention.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The curse of the CEO is trying to do too much. I’m a “big idea” person who always has 50 at a time, but you can’t do a good idea justice if you’re not all in on it. With Opear, I was set on an all-in-one childcare platform with sitters, “mother’s helpers”, and in-home nurses. But my attention was torn, and I couldn’t grow the business the right way. After checking myself and zeroing in on the medical niche, I made sure to remember this lesson as I made the big decisions. Since then, I’ve kept the app’s features and our team lean so we can focus on what’s important and grow in the right way at the right time.
What role has social media played in your success?
Instagram has opened the door to some amazing budding partnerships. Bloggers, media outlets, and niche staffing agencies have all found us through social media, which has saved us potentially hours of research and outreach. Check out how to make the most of Instagram for business.
When partnering with fellow companies, creators or influencers, what criteria do you look for?
We look for partnerships that are mutually beneficial because those are the relationships that last. If a partnership feels too one-sided, it’s only a matter of time before someone moves on to a better arrangement. That idea carries over to overlap in your audiences. A micro-influencer who can engage 5,000 New York moms is a lot more valuable to us than someone who can reach 5 million teens in Europe. It’s important to make sure you’re shooting at the same target.
Who is your ideal collaboration with?
I’d love to see Opear partner with CVS one day. After acquiring Aetna, expanding their minute clinics, and broadening their services, I can see we’re moving in the same direction. Aetna wants to take acute issues out of the ER and reduce the clutter that’s diluting quality patient care, and we could help them do that without the need for more infrastructure.
None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
No one deserves more credit than my mother. We lived a life of incredible struggle, which included many nights of homelessness, eviction, and living without bare necessities like water and heat. My mother never lost her resolve, working three jobs at a time to provide for us while going through the lengthy process to become an American citizen. Her optimism inspired me to follow my dreams, and her determination taught me that when your struggles get hard, you have to work harder. Sometimes you’ll find yourself feeling defeated and wanting to quit, but because of her strength, I have the grit to never give up and never let go of my goals.
What is the most worthwhile investment (time, energy, money) that you have made?
I didn’t know it yet, but carving out time to read even when I was busy turned out to be the greatest time investment I could have made.
Before my “Aha!” moment, I read three books that would set me up to recognize it: The Power of Now, Awakening to a New Earth, and the Art of Happiness.
If I hadn’t read these books and take their lessons to heart, I’m not sure I would have been able to identify my moment and see the opportunity in front of me. Reading is never a waste of time because you never know how that knowledge might serve you later.
What piece of industry advice do you often hear that you disagree with and why?
I completely reject the idea that healthcare moves too slowly for parents to adopt house calls. When I do meet someone who’s sceptical, it’s usually because they believe parents aren’t ready to break the routine of the traditional doctor’s visit. But Opear is introducing the concept in a way that patients can wrap their head around. It’s not like we’re not setting broken bones in a kitchen; we’re doing routine tests for common illnesses – an important part of paediatric healthcare. We’re just doing it in the place that kids feel most comfortable.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a business on their own?
Don’t – unless you absolutely have to. The cliches about entrepreneurship are true. It’s an unpredictable roller coaster of calm and chaos, wins and losses, highs and lows. Take a serious look at yourself and ask whether you have the time, financial security, and motivation to run a business 24 hours a day, even when it gets lonely. You can’t get discouraged when things are going poorly, but you also can’t get lazy when they’re going well. If you’ve prepared yourself for all of this, starting a business is the only way you can imagine spending your life, you’ll know it’s your true calling. As my mom always used to say, “follow your goals, don’t let them follow behind you.”
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Michael Demetriou is the Founder and CEO of Opear, New York's first app for pediatric house calls.