They’re the words of Butterfly Network’s Chief of Staff and Head of Growth, Darius Shahida. It’s a big statement, for a company with a big vision. In a nutshell, they’ve created the world’s first handheld whole-body ultrasound device which is sold, via their website, for less than $2000.
Butterfly Network's Chief of Staff & Head of Growth, Darius Shahida
I managed to catch Darius for a call, despite his hectic travel schedule, to learn more about what it’s like to work for one of the most disruptive medical companies of the last decade and picked his brain about their continued plans for world domination.
I’ve already touched on the top-level advantages of Butterfly’s device, but to go into slightly more detail, their real innovation has been to place technology which usually resides in $60,000+ ultrasound machines onto a single semiconductor chip. What that means is you can use the Butterfly with your smartphone, tablet or laptop. This portability in combination with the lower price point is what they’re hoping will carry them toward their goal of ‘democratising ultrasound’.
Butterfly was founded by serial med-tech entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg in 2011 and received the broadest FDA clearance ever for an ultrasound device in 2017. This was quickly followed by the company receiving CE mark approval earlier in 2019.
Europe presents a huge opportunity for Butterfly, largely due to the limitations of existing technology available on the continent. That technology is mired in the expensive and traditional piezoelectric crystal method, discovered as far back as 1880. This means bigger and significantly more expensive ultrasound scanners than Butterfly are offering.
At less than $2000 per device, Butterfly believe that more healthcare practitioners than ever will be empowered to use ultrasound in a diagnostically impactful way. Darius highlighted the price point, device size and ease of use as lowering the barriers to accessing ultrasound – leading back to that vision of ‘democratising’ the technology.
When it comes to bringing Butterfly to market, in Darius’ words, the company’s commercial strategy is ‘almost as disruptive as the technology itself’. That means, in addition to pursuing the traditional enterprise and fleet sales, Butterfly sells devices directly to their user via their e-Commerce store. And that user could be a huge range of people. In the US, any licensed medical practitioner can pick up a probe and download Butterfly’s app on their smart device for less than $2000.
Darius talked about the company having ‘one foot in today and one in tomorrow’ and how the accessibility and democratisation of a previously tough-to-access tech is creating brand new use cases for the modality.
All the consumer-focused marketing, Apple design awards and disruption don’t come without medical gravitas though. In Chief Medical Officer John Martin, they have a medical industry veteran who believes in the product more than most. He’s directly seen the impact that easy-to-access ultrasound can have, but that’s a story I’ll let you find for yourself…
Butterfly Network Chief Medical Officer, John Martin
Darius described the beauty of ultrasound as the only truly harmless imaging modality which means it can be used, regularly, without any negative consequences for the patient. The only barrier to having more regular, speculative or exploratory ultrasound scans was the scanners or probes themselves. What that’s translated to today is the likes of first-time ultrasound users purchasing devices. Think medical students, nurse practitioners and general practitioners. They all have access that, up until a couple of years ago, would have been totally unprecedented.
The impact has been huge. In Darius’ words,
“Not only is [the device] cannibalizing the existing markets, it’s expanding the overall market because of how easy it is to use and how affordable it is.”
The probe’s portability, price point and ease of use brings with it potential humanitarian applications too. According to Darius, “right now, two thirds of the world’s population lacks access to medical imaging and that’s a huge problem” but a problem Butterfly have the potential to help with, if not solve. It’s also a problem that has attracted the attention of one of the biggest philanthropic foundations in the world, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who have since invested in Butterfly.
Darius described this investment as “humbling” for the business and something that has led their global health programme. If you’d like to learn more about the ways in which the product is being used in more than 20 countries, you can take a more in-depth look here.
With their lofty ambitions to become one of the “most impactful and disruptive medical imaging companies in the world”, they need new people outside of those companies with a global health focus. I asked what’s important to them in a new employee and, according to Darius, they want “folks who think differently and innovatively to solve some of the problems that have traditionally stymied the universal adoption of ultrasound.”
In a sector which has traditionally seen conventional routes to market becoming ever more well-trodden by the same dominant companies, it’s interesting to hear that innovative thinkers and an inquisitive mindset are key here, rather than the prized little black book of contacts and KOLs.
Darius went on to say about prospective employees that:
“Anyone who joins our team is encouraged to think differently. We make decisions quickly to continue to get this disruptive technology to those who need it the most, solving some of the most difficult problems facing the broader healthcare industry today.”
If that’s you, and you’d be interested in being a part of Butterfly’s journey from inside the business, then I’m delighted to be working with the business on their expansion plans and I’d love to have a conversation with you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me via LinkedIn or at Cameron.firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a conversation about what you could bring to the table.
If, like many, you’re just planning on watching the journey and growth of the business from afar, then it promises to be a hugely exciting ride.
Huge thanks to Darius Shahida for his time during this conversation. Learn more about Butterfly Network at www.butterflynetwork.com and watch this space for more collaborative content between Charlton Morris & Butterfly Network.