February 16, 2023

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We believe high-quality clinical research isn’t just for Big Pharma

Jay Holley – Founder

Prior to starting Climb, I was on the founding team at Uber Health. What started as two of us at a whiteboard pitching executive leadership for budget grew to $100mm+ in revenue less than 18 months after launch. We blew many of our initial projections out of the water but it wasn’t without quite a few surprises along the way.

One such surprise came to us by way of Uber’s robust fraud mitigation team. Several of our earliest adopters were dispatching Uber rides via our newly-launched HIPAA-compliant platform at a rate that raised flags with the fraud team based on the scales of their operations. After a bit of digging, I found many legitimate rides ordered by legitimate businesses in service of ongoing clinical trials.

That previously overlooked segment was giving us every sign of product-market fit and it was up to me to do something about it. 

There are tens of thousands of facilities in the US conducting research in one form or another and many of them generate well below $10mm in annual revenue. Deputizing a sales team to win that market just wasn’t an option for the low-margin rides business.

I began visiting a number of these early customers in person to better understand their workflows looking for product-enabled growth strategies to better serve their studies.

Time and again I was astonished by what I found.

Some were highly reliant on whiteboards to manage the participant lifecycle. Others had Post-It Notes on computers and walls organizing their processes. One had commissioned a dev shop to build a rudimentary iPad app to sit on top of a SQL database which acted as the central hub for study operations. 

Then there were spreadsheets. Lots of spreadsheets. 

The desk phone was clearly an invaluable tool for most sites and all of the coordinators I met seemed to run their days on razor’s edge balancing chaos with healthy doses of caffeine.

After each trip, I would return to Uber’s SF headquarters where people were discussing things like clever new strategies to shave fractions of a second off of driver/rider match times and it was clear some of that kind of focused attention and process improvement could be a huge help to the people working hard to drive progress in research.

There was surely a better way to run clinical trials but it wasn’t Uber’s place to do that work.

As we started working through initial mockups and prototypes of the platform that would become Climb, I began meeting with sponsors to better understand their needs and priorities. 

I talked with the founder of a health startup who needed to run a clinical trial to validate her company’s core product. A name brand CRO connected them with well-respected sites, but things just kept going wrong. 

Labs weren’t being completed on time and participants were dropping out right and left. At one point, she offered to renegotiate their contracts and pay more to get better service. Ultimately, she realized that the A-players were all working on the Big Pharma contracts and her fledgling startup was never going to attract the careful attention her study required.

Before long, they shut down the study and directly hired and managed their own study team. That meant overseeing trial ops became a full time job for one of the company’s founders for several months. The existential importance of the study is the only thing that could justify that productivity drain on the company. They got the study done on time but it came at a high financial cost and an unreasonable investment of time.

If multinational pharmaceutical companies are the only ones who can afford to conduct high-quality clinical research, we fail everyone striving to improve their health and the scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs who are working hard to support them. 

We built Climb because we know there’s a better path forward.

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