Tenacity Beats Talent Every Time: An interview with Stephen Bourke, co-founder of Echo

Mia Millman

24 July 2019

Stephen Bourke, co-founder of Echo, speaks to PUBLIC about why he started Echo and what’s changed in healthtech since then. 

When Stephen co-founded Echo, he was told it couldn’t be done and people didn’t need their product. Now, the healthcare app – regularly listed amongst the UK’s leading startups – delivers repeat prescriptions to over 50,000 users, and has most recently has been acquired by McKesson, a leading healthcare organisation which includes LloydsPharmacy.

We spoke to co-founder Stephen Bourke about the next step in their journey, how attitudes have evolved since starting the company, and where the next big challenges lie for healthcare.

How does it feel to have reached the finish line? Is this a finish line for you?

Quite the opposite. This deal means Echo can scale and impact the lives of millions of patients across the UK. What drives us is improving medicines adherence, helping patients get and take their meds. This means providing people with choice – some prefer to visit a pharmacy in person, others want meds delivered to their office. Our tie-up with LloydsPharmacy enables us to serve more patients in more ways, so we’re very excited.

What are things that surprised you, or you didn’t expect, about having your startup acquired?

It’s humbling to think that something my co-founder Sai Lakshmi and I started in Joe and the Juice could make it this far. Before we started a lot of people told me it couldn’t be done, that there wasn’t a user need. I’m glad we ignored them and found backing from investors like PUBLIC.

Why did you start Echo? What was the problem you were trying to solve?

We both take repeat prescriptions, so we started Echo to make our lives easier and stop monthly visits to the GP. It wasn’t until later that we realised that if you make it easier for people to get meds, they are more likely to take them, improving medicines adherence. This helps people live healthier, longer lives and, at scale, can save the NHS billions.

How far do you think you’ve got in solving this problem?

We’re only getting started. Over 75% of Echo users are adherent based on one measure, and across all meds, adherence was 88%. But in a recent patient survey, almost 30% of respondents had forgotten to take their medicine in the last two weeks. Making it easy for people to get medicine is the first step – now we need to figure out how to help them manage it.

How has the NHS changed since you founded Echo? Do you think the government is more willing to accept GovTech now than when you started Echo?

The NHS definitely has a better understanding of GovTech, our value and what needs to be true for us to succeed. Matthew Gould’s appointment and the creation of NHSX has been particularly useful. But it’s a marathon, not a sprint and what happens in Whitehall and Skipton House takes time to disseminate across CCGs and Trusts.

What do you see as the big challenges in healthcare that the next Echo will need to solve? What will they need to do to solve it?

There are lots to choose from, but I would like to say ‘dulltech’ – big, difficult infrastructure and interoperability projects that struggle to capture most journalists’ imagination but are so, so important to unlock the promise of HealthTech. For instance, a platform that gives hospitals access to GP records would be transformational; or an API to translate the health data patients create into information clinicians can trust, understand and action. We have lots of endpoints across the system – the challenge is to make them talk to each other. Think Open Banking for health.

What advice would you give to early GovTech founders?

Be patient. Tenacity beats talent every time.

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