Inside the head of Axelle Ayad - co-founder and CEO of Mapatho
Axelle is an entrepreneur, but not only. She is also a writer, author of two books, Lonely Patient and Happy Patient. She is also a patient activist, a member of patient associations and committed to moving the lines.
Welcome to the eighth episode of Future4care's WhatHealth podcast.
This time, we met Axelle Ayad, co-founder and CEO of Mapatho, a startup member of the first Future4care batch.
Mapatho is a platform for chronically ill people and their relatives, which allows them to find a register of health professionals, by pathology. Not just any healthcare professionals, but those recommended by patient associations.
Mapatho is also about sharing content, by pathology, which allows to obtain concrete information to learn how to live with one's pathology and/or to support the people around them in their daily life as a patient.
Mapatho relies on artificial intelligence, IAGO, to improve its expertise and on an algorithm to personalize care paths according to patients' needs.
In this interview, Vincent Puren asks Axelle about the path she has taken, from her business school diploma to her current position as CEO of a recognized startup in the healthcare sector in France and soon internationally.
Life choices, illness and the path to entrepreneurship
Axelle is an entrepreneur, but not only. She is also a writer, author of two books, Lonely Patient and Happy Patient. She is also a patient activist, a member of patient associations and committed to moving the lines, notably with her think tank 'Les Ateliers Mercure', an independent and multidisciplinary health think tank.
Vincent wanted to know more about all this and in particular, about the path taken to get there.
So Axelle starts by telling us about her childhood. Coming from a rather modest background, she confides that when she arrived in her final year of high school, she didn't really know where to go except for college. Then, during an individual interview, her teacher talked to her about the preparatory class, an unknown path for Axelle. Despite this, she decided to go for it, and then continued her studies in a business school. When she graduated, she decided to go into what she thought she was best at: human resources. It was in human resources in large groups, first at LOréal, then Carrefour and finally Urgo.
At a very young age, Axelle had already experienced severe migraines, and was already aware that she was subject to one or more pathologies, but without having the ability to determine exactly which ones they were.
It was later, during her expatriation in China, that she was victim of a serious malaise that forced her to return to France. At the age of 23, she was diagnosed with endometriosisand not appendicitis, as some doctors thought. Reassured to know what was happening to her, Axelle confided to us that she found herself in a medical wandering at that time. She didn't know who to contact, how to go about it, where to go, who to talk to, a real desert.
In spite of everything, she does not change her way of life, except that she changes her company. We are in 2018 and little by little, she realizes that she is no longer in tune with the work that is asked of her. Human resources policies that do not fit with her values and a pace of life that is incompatible with her health problems.
She was followed by a neurologist at the time, who diagnosed her with a very specific type of migraine. Migraines that lead to a four times greater chance of having a stroke has the person who is a victim. Faced with this, this health professional told Axelle that if her lifestyle did not change, her life would be in danger.
One day during a seminar, just out of a meeting and late to join her team, Axelle takes the car, stressed, in a hurry and it's an accident.
This event marks a turning point for Axelle. She decided to resign and change her life completely, to go towards the unknown. "I want to become an entrepreneur" she confided to us at that time.
The in-between - creating a startup
"No one believed in it," says Axelle.
Recognized for her talents in human resources, her ability to potentially become a good marketer, but not an entrepreneur. However, Axelle knows she has to go for it. More than being an entrepreneur herself, she decided that she had to act for people like her, who are suffering from diseases and/or pathologies and who are facing medical wandering.
She says to herself that there is 'no more time to lose'. Very supported by her parents, very far from the entrepreneurial world, she nevertheless draws her strength from it.
Axelle quickly launched her business, but she was caught several times by the impostor syndrome that many entrepreneurs experience. First of all, because entrepreneurship is a very masculine universe, but also because she doesn't feel legitimate to talk about health without coming from this field or from a close environment.
However, she hung in there and decided to create the company she had always dreamed of working for. A company that considers its employees, but that also respects its commitments, in this case, to create an ethical solution that will bring a real solution to patients, without asking them more than what they already have to do every day.
At the same time, like all entrepreneurs, Axelle's personal and professional life balance becomes complicated.
Married to her childhood sweetheart since 2015, she feels that a gap is growing between her life during the week, a life at 200 km/h, rich in discoveries, encounters, new experiences, but very busy, and her life during the weekend, which was perfectly suitable until now, but which seems to be no longer sufficient, and even completely different from what she expects.
A big dilemma is imposed on the woman and entrepreneur that is Axelle: "Continue in this high-speed train and who loves me follows me, or slow down, but knowing that I will wither away" she confides to us.
It is the first option that she will choose, which will lead her to focus 100% on Mapatho, a startup founded on a perfect alignment with her values and ambitions.
Mapatho, the realization
Axelle formalized her idea and launched it, but she also realized that she lacked many of the skills that are essential to the development of a company. That's how she contacted her two partners, including Pierre-Emmanuel Obéniche, who is still present today as CPO.
They quickly realized that, like all other start-ups, they had to find a way to finance themselves. However, Axelle is against this widespread approach in the startup ecosystem to raise funds at all costs.
In fact, she has twice refused the funds that were offered to her. The first time, because she said she didn't know enough about her value at the time, didn't have enough experience and knowledge about what it would mean for her company in the future, because raising funds means a return on investment for the investor. The second time, it was because of a lack of alignment with the organization in question; she left her previous position because it no longer made sense to her, not to start again here, within her own company.
However, aware that it was necessary to find a profitable and sustainable means of financing, she decided to accept the investment committee exercise. She thus met the first investor who entered the capital of Mapatho.
The investments acquired were very beneficial for the startup. Indeed, it allowed the development of their AI, IAGO, to better support patients in their needs. In particular to collect more quickly the recommendations that arrive on the application, then to check their veracity and also to analyze their feelings (positive or negative) to treat them in the right way.
Today, Mapatho is able to personalize the content and recommendations according to the patient's needs, thanks to this AI, but also to an algorithm based on the keywords entered by the patient. This makes it possible to adapt to changes in patients' lives (moving, new pathologies, etc.).
However, even today, she says she is not looking for fundraising. She confides in us that she would not be happier if she were present in dozens of countries or at the head of an ETI. What drives her is to have created the business model she wanted.
The entire business model was designed to be ethical and patient-centered. Moreover, she remembers when she launched her startup, when people told her that it would never work, that she had to focus on healthcare professionals to exist in this ecosystem. Convinced that this is where everyone else was going and that they had to be different, the two partners stood their ground and, apparently, it paid off.
Assuming that the patient already has a mutual insurance company for his care, Axelle and Pierre-Emmanuel chose to incorporate their solution into existing services. When a mutual insurance company becomes a partner of Mapatho, the patient can access 'Mapatho +'. This gives him access to the directory of health professionals and also to all the content, according to his pathologies. Also, if the patient enters Mapatho through the application directly, he/she is asked to fill in the name of his/her mutual insurance company. If the latter is a partner, then the patient will be granted premium access.
All patients can now download Mapatho for free. Some services are just not as developed as on 'Mapatho +'.
This business model meets Axelle's expectations. She confides to us that the company, in only 4 years, has reached its financial balance and that the adventure will not stop here.
Mapatho, ambitions and achievements
Axelle confides to us that they have the chance, today, thanks to an acquired profitability, to be able to choose customers and partners having the same vision as them. No more need to comply with organizations that would distort Mapatho's project, a chance she tells us.
So far, the startup's promise has been to connect the patient with the right healthcare professional, but the reverse is also true. She tells us about a dermatologist who warmly thanked her for putting forward his expertise, so that the patients who choose him are patients who really need his expertise. Thus, Mapatho Pro, a service through which health professionals recommend each other, was born from this observation.
The path has not been without pitfalls. Axelle tells us about the beginnings, when she was reproached for not having any scientific legitimacy. She quickly surrounded herself with a scientific council composed of health professionals who were very committed and convinced of the project. Then, little by little, groups of experts by pathology.
This scientific legitimacy is essential to exist in this ecosystem. It is also one of the components that allows it to move forward in new explorations.
Axelle talks about two ambitious projects for the months and years to come.
First of all, a new functionality, which will be on the platform by the end of the year: the preparation of medical appointments. Thanks to a lot of work with experts and health professionals, Mapatho wants to develop an offer that allows patients to prepare for their medical exams. This requires working on algorithms in order to orient the patient in the best possible way and also to improve the diagnosis of comorbidity. We are talking about prevention and prediction, which is a medical device. A big project in the life of a startup, because it requires a lot of time and studies, a 4-year project, says Axelle, very excited by this prospect.
But the good news doesn't stop there. During this exchange, Axelle tells us that Mapatho has joined Mon Espace Santé. It has been a "very long and complicated" road to get there, with more than 150 criteria to check off, but it is a real institutional recognition, says Axelle. For Mapatho, it's a clear increase in visibility, since the service will be directly in the application of all French citizens, under 'catalog or service'. For the patient, it's an additional entry point to find the right professionals and the right information on his or her pathology.
A very nice step for Axelle, who warmly thanks her team for all the investment it required.
The culture of Mapatho
In her previous experiences, Axelle suffered a lot from forced relocations for work or imposed schedules even when it was not justified. So, when she developed her company, it was obvious for her not to reproduce what had bothered her in the past and to put in place what was important to her.
Moreover, because of her medical condition, she knew that she no longer wanted a classic model, 35 to 40 hours a week at work, in person, with days off for medical appointments or when a child is sick.
So naturally, Axelle developed a model where her employees work from home, every day of the week. With the exception of two days per month, when everyone meets for a full day of brainstorming, there are no meetings, no individual lunches, they are team days with meals included. In addition, there are four two- or three-day seminars per year, outside of the work environment, to strengthen ties and clear the mind.
For Axelle, these quality moments, where everyone is 100% present, are worth more than 5 days a week together, without ever really talking to each other. She experienced this at first with her team, but was extremely frustrated to be in a relationship where there was no real sharing. Cut off from others in an office, in meetings constantly, it was not team time, not productive.
So, at Mapatho, from Monday to Thursday, we are at a distance and when there is a meeting, it is a mandatory camera. "It's warm," Axelle tells us. "We see where the others live, sometimes we discover a family member passed behind, it creates bonds differently, but real."
And then Friday is "no wear Friday". A day to wrap up your files, be well, at home while working. No camera required, unless it's a meeting with someone external obviously and no obligation to get ready.
Axelle is aware that this model does not appeal to everyone, because it also means knowing how to self-motivate and then you have to feel good at home, have a room in which you are ready to spend most of your time, but at Mapatho it is like that.
Vincent then asks Axelle about medical appointments, the place of health and family within the startup.
Axelle answers that it is not taboo. Having to take time off work to go to the doctor or to pick up your child from the nursery is out of the question. Being sick, having imperatives, it's ok, you have to know how to talk about it, she is the first one to be transparent about it. As long as the work is done, everyone takes responsibility in his or her own way, 'the days when you have to do all your own tasks on weekends are over, employees are not happy like that', says Axelle.
For this model to work, it is also a matter of men and women. A story of recruitment. Axelle talks about her recruitments as meetings. She recalls the recruitment of Lorène and Oriane, the first recruits. It was not only a question of skills, but also a question of feeling, a bit like Edouard Baer's tirade in the film Obelix and Asterix Mission Cleopatra, she confides to us; and then, a very important point, the sharing of the same values and above all the same vision.
Axelle is very grateful to be surrounded by her team, it is thanks to them and their investment that Mapatho is developing so quickly and well. This is only the beginning, Axelle and her partner intend to continue to move the lines.
Today, 70% of chronically ill patients hesitate to move, with the fear of not having a real follow-up.
Also, in spite of the Lemoine law, more than 75% of patients lie or are refused bank loans because of their illnesses. Proof that there is still a lot to do.
Axelle is committed to targeting these needs through Mapatho and her involvement in France Asso santé.
We believe that the startup, with its corporate culture that shakes up the codes and its unfailing commitment, will still achieve great things to improve the lives of patients.
All that remains is for us to follow Mapatho's evolution through the months and years.