At Octopus, we invest in small companies that want to change the world for the better. The Octopus Ventures team is built to invest in tech-focused companies in four areas we believe will have the most impact on our future: health, money, deep tech and consumer technology. One company doing just that is Quit Genius.
Quit Genius is on a mission to help 100 million people beat addiction. The company has built the world’s first digital clinic for multiple substance addictions. Combining behavioural therapy treatments with approved medications, Quit Genius supports employers and health plans to help their members conquer addictions, as well as individuals looking to quit.
Octopus Ventures invested in Quit Genius in January 2020 and are excited to partner with the business and join them on their journey. “When it comes to addiction, far too many people are still dying from deaths that are potentially avoidable,” Will Gibbs, Investor at Octopus Ventures, explained. “That’s why the personalised digital approach taken by Quit Genius is so exciting, as it is far more effective at changing behaviours and will ultimately save lives.”
Helping people quit smoking
The business was started in London by three doctors, Yusuf Sherwani (co-founder and CEO), Maroof Ahmed (co-founder and COO) and Sarim Siddiqui (co-founder and head of product), who met on the first day of medical school at Imperial College London. During their placements and working in hospitals, the doctors saw the awful effects addictions like smoking have on peoples’ lives. According to the UK government, “Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in England, with about half of all lifelong smokers dying prematurely, losing on average around 10 years of life.”
From what Sherwani, Ahmed and Siddiqui observed in UK healthcare, smokers who wanted to quit didn’t have access to effective treatment options. With our overstretched healthcare system mainly focusing on treating problems as they arise rather than trying to prevent them in the first place, addiction treatment wasn’t well supported.
The trio spotted a gap in the market for a service that could help people effectively beat addictions. Using their medical knowledge alongside commercial awareness, the founders created the world’s first technology-enabled digital clinic to tackle multiple addictions, Quit Genius. The app gives customers instant access to a specialised quitting programme made up of behavioural therapy, controlled use of medication, a personal ‘Quit Coach’ to guide participants on their journey, breath and saliva checks to make tracking progress easier, and anonymous peer support.
To begin with, the team turned their attention to smokers in the UK. As of 2019, Quit Genius helped more than 60,000 people beat their nicotine addiction, and their programme has proven at least 20% more effective than traditional quitting care. “Quit Genius is re-defining the gold standard therapy to tackle addictions and it is incredible to see the positive impact the team has made in such a short space of time,” co-founder Yusuf Sherwani commented.
Their success is down to providing patients with a unique combination of tried-and-tested quitting techniques that can be used at home. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps people spot the behaviours and emotions that trigger their addiction. The Quit Genius app teaches customers to spot when negative or triggering thoughts pop up and uses a mix of different videos, audio clips, animations and articles to guide them towards more positive thoughts.
Patients can also meet with doctors virtually to plan and get prescriptions for medication-assisted treatment. ‘Quit Coaches’ provide one-on-one support and counselling, helping customers keep their goals in mind. Quit Genius also makes it easy for patients to track their progress with a breath and saliva tester that works alongside the app.
Tackling alcohol and opioid addiction
Quit Genius is a business promising to do good while chasing future growth. With a desire to help 100 million people quit addictions that interfere with their lives, damage their health and, for some, cause unnecessary premature death, the team has expanded their services to tackle alcohol and opioid addictions as well. “When we did some research into those struggling with addictions, we found that one in three workers who are battling one addiction also, unfortunately, suffer from another type of addiction too,” co-founder Maroof Ahmed explained.
This next phase in the company’s development kicked off in early 2020 when the business raised $11 million. Octopus Ventures led the investment round which also included big names such as Y Combinator. Later in 2020, the business went on to raise a further $1.5m from Burda. They joined Octopus, alongside earlier investors Eric Ries, Venus Williams and Serena Williams, in backing Quit Genius’s plans.
Part of the Quit Genius development plan involves expanding into the American employer market, a country currently in the middle of an opioid crisis. One in four people in America is battling a substance dependency, which is having a massive effect on the country. Smoking is said to be linked to around 40% of all American cancer diagnoses. Alcohol and opioid addictions account for 2% of America’s yearly deaths, in comparison to making up around 0.5% of deaths worldwide.
In addition to harming the health and happiness of individuals, employees with addictions can cost their employers up to three times more than those without. To solve this problem, Quit Genius is partnering with businesses and health plans, including Evernorth (Cigna Corporation’s health services segment), to improve employee health and happiness, while also lowering healthcare costs for all involved. Unlike most wellness services, Quit Genius doesn’t charge a blanket cost per person per year. Instead, they only charge companies for employees who use the app. Plus, they offer clients a partial refund if their employees don’t achieve their goals (Quit Genius’s co-founders mentioned no one has taken them up on this refund yet).
Since launching their opioid and alcohol addiction services earlier this year, and in combination with their nicotine programme, Quit Genius has reached more than 700,000 participants across the globe. The team is working with several business clients, including several Fortune 500 companies, and has built up a great reputation among their customers.
Octopus are looking forward to continuing to support Quit Genius on their journey and are looking to the future of the sector as a whole. “We’re very excited about the potential to build global businesses in the healthcare space,” Will Gibbs noted. “Quit Genius has already proved their product works with smokers and we believe there is a huge opportunity to tackle other addictive behaviours that can be just as hard to kick. We’re super excited about their potential.”