EP 106 – Kanpassorn Eix Suriyasangpetch – CEO of Ooca – This Is Going To Be With Me My Whole Life

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Michael Waitze has been podcasting with some of the best investors and business builders globally and discussing all things startup with them from an Asian perspective. Michael worked in Global Finance for more than 20 years, employed by firms like Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs, primarily in Tokyo. Michael always maintained a particular focus on how technology could be used successfully to make businesses more efficient and to drive P/L growth. Michael is quite skilled at connecting people and capital to innovative ideas and is a trusted advisor to both investors and founders. Michael is a leader in the digital media space, having pioneered the concept of a podcast network in Asia while building the biggest and fastest-growing listener base in the region. His flagship website, AsiaTechPodcast.com, has listeners in over 130 countries and is available on virtually every podcast player that supports RSS feeds.

Kanpassorn Suriyasangpetch is an army dentist turned tech entrepreneur. She is the CEO and co-founder of OOCA, the anonymous video-call platform to help people go through stigma and help connect with psychiatrists and psychologists through online video call- it's the first telemedicine that focuses on mental wellness app for people in Thailand. With more than 90,000 users on the platform and numerous corporate clients with 172,584 users as customers; OOCA signed an MOU with the Ministry of Public Health, Department of Mental health through the Wall of Sharing Project to provide free counseling service for university students around Thailand. She was awarded as one of 100 most inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2018 as one of BBC100 women.

The Asia InsurTech Podcast spoke with Kanpassorn Eix Suriyasangpetch, an army dentist turned tech entrepreneur. She is the CEO and co-founder of OOCA, the anonymous video-call platform to help people go through stigma and help connect with psychiatrists and psychologists through online video call- it’s the first telemedicine that focuses on mental wellness app for people in Thailand. With more than 90,000 users on the platform and numerous corporate clients with 172,584 users as customers; OOCA signed an MOU with the Ministry of Public Health, Department of Mental health through the Wall of Sharing Project to provide free counseling service for university students around Thailand. She was awarded as one of 100 most inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2018 as one of BBC100 women.

See the full transcript below:

Michael Waitze   

Hi, this is Michael Waitze, and welcome back to the Asia Insur Tech Podcast. This is the only podcast in Asia focused on insurance and health that gives entrepreneurs thought leaders and investors a platform to discuss how technology is reshaping the insurance industry in Asia. Today, I am joined, I’m happy to be joined by Kanpassorn Eix – Did I get that right? Suriyasangpetch, the founder and CEO at Ooca. Now you’re making me laugh again. Eix it’s great to have you on the show. How are you doing?

Kanpassorn Eix  

I’m doing great. Thank you, Michael.

Michael Waitze  

So we’re gonna have the unintentional comedy scale this entire recording.

Kanpassorn Eix   

Okay. Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Michael Waitze    

It’s a pleasure to have you. Let’s just jump right in. What do you think is the most important trend in InsurTech in Thailand today?

Kanpassorn Eix    

So I might be speaking on the perspective of the fact that I’m in the healthtech space. So I feel that innovations, especially around like health related insurance, has been progressing a lot. Like for example, during these recent years, a lot of insurance start to implement more of telemedicine to help them facilitate healthtech, I’m sorry, like health insurance and also in that’s in hopes of help reducing costs, and also some trials in order to deliver like, better, attractive policy for consumers. So I think that’s something to be ironed out for, like, at this recent years, they might be some sort of more of like, exclusive types of telemedicine service available for some particular insurance company. But I think there’s more to come in the future, as far as they learned that okay, it does actually help them save costs actually deliver better results and better ratings from their clients. Yeah, so I think like,  that’s like the beginning of the future that could lead more into not only just acute care, but also like something more in the NCD type of space. So that’s what I see right now.

Michael Waitze   

So when you say NCD, you’re talking about non-communicable diseases. Yeah, just so people can understand.

Kanpassorn Eix   

Yes.

Michael Waitze 

Got it . Thank you. Can you give our listeners a little bit of your background for context?

Kanpassorn Eix   

So my name is Kanpassorn Suriyasangpetch, I totally get it is hard to pronounce. Again, it’s like this all the time, just like when you asked me about, like me being on a clubhouse, that’s like, the usual case, wherever I pop up, I try to raise my hand, everybody would be so nervous about pronouncing my name. So like, I get it, it’s Kanpassorn Suriyasangpetch or you just call me Eix, like Eix is definitely easier. So my background is a dentist. I am from a dentist family. And also, I have been working as a dentist for like, only two years before I started  my company called Ooca. So the reason why I started Ooca because, during,like, throughout my life I’ve always had issues with mental health, and also like struggling to find resources, that complements what I need. So the very first time that I seeked help was while I was studying as a dental student, and like, from then until, like, after I graduate,  I still have the same, like similar issue. Finding help is hard to book appointment, you have to wait long time. Sometimes you have to travel far, far away, in order to be seen. And also sometimes people around you will not understand why you’re seeking help. And also you might have to cover that up for a sake of your work, credibility and such. So after a while, realize that I’m not the only person facing this issue. This issue is far more widespread and also a huge amount of people are suffering the same issue with mental literacy and also lack of access to proper mental health care. And I think technology could actually become a solution to this issue. So that’s why I feel like I can try to start building this solution that can help.

Michael Waitze  

Can you go into a little bit more detail about what Ooca does? And then I have, there’s so much to unpack from what you said, actually, before you do that. I want to understand when you figured out that it wasn’t just you, you know, when you’re growing up when you’re 14, 15, 16, or whatever, and you’re having mental health problems, but you don’t know what they are, right? Because there’s no one to whom you can talk about this. So you kind of feel isolated. And yeah, the resources aren’t readily available. So you can’t even turn to anybody. It’s hard to ask mom and dad, because they’ll just say, and not your mom and dad, but anybody’s mom and dad will just say suck it up and just like study harder, or whatever it is that’s getting you down, right? When did you realize that this was something that wasn’t just happening to you, but that was happening to a whole bunch of other people.

Kanpassorn Eix    

Maybe it might be from my family. I mean, like me observing within my own family, I think is something that might be from genetic, is not actually rude to say that because I’m okay with that. Like, I’m a part of the medical profession society as well, I think that’s completely normal, but not find solution to it can actually suffer you’re yourself and also people around you. Because you do not understand how to deal with the issue. And also, you’re not trying to find ways to improve it, and therefore you have to suffer with it for a long time. Like, why is it not like only just me, I can easily observe it from right in front of the queue while I was waiting for doctors, because like, while you’re waiting, there’s tons of people waiting, tons of people waiting to get inside Yeah, so and is not actually about mental health as well, like me working in medical facilities in working in hospitals, that kind of scenarios where people stuck in queue people traveling, like at least three hours to get there. People like wasting, like they’re sacrificing their quality of life in order to be seen by doctors, like doctors are being seen as something in the same status, like God status where they have them.

Michael Waitze   

Yeah, like a saviour.

Kanpassorn Eix   

Yeah, they will save you, they have this call to do whatever they want, and sometimes is not like, so is I will say, the patient’s life circulates around doctors, whatever that makes them perform the best, whatever that boosts their productivity, but it’s not wrong, because the resources are so scarce. And we have to do that. So it’s not that hard to notice, especially when you work in hospitals every day, is not only just about mental health is about all kinds of health. But especially like me on the other side, I get to have that kind of experience as the person on the other side of the table while I was having depression. So definitely something that I can resonate myself with. I have to travel to my psychiatrist six hours, because I cannot six hours, 

Michael Waitze   

Where did you go?

Kanpassorn Eix  

Because right, at that time, I was working outside of Bangkok. I was working quite far away. And around that area there’s actually someone specialize in psychiatry, maybe like one or two of the whole town. But I would say that they’re super busy. They usually would have like 200 patients per day. And probably if I walked into their office, everybody in that town will gossip, for sure.

Michael Waitze   

Right, They would know.

Kanpassorn Eix   

Yeah, they will know me. They know me right away and back then I was working as a military dentist so I was working with the kind of toxic masculinity type of environments.

Michael Waitze   

I understand.

Kanpassorn Eix  

Where you have to manage a lot of very masculine surgeons that will most likely will not listen to you because you’re female and that search therefore you cannot be seen as someone weak. So, and I also trust more of the quality of the, I believe more that the quality of care provided by medical school is better. Because of me having experienced training in medical school as well, I believe that being taken care of by a professor is the best. So I chose to go to the medical school in Bangkok. So that’s why it’s, like so long for like, so it’s it’s far away, as far away as six hours drive, and not even counting the waiting times of like two months before the actual visit. So as a lot of sacrifice a lot of quality of life that had lost during the journey.

Michael Waitze   

Yeah, I want to make an I want to make a point here explicitly. Because you said, you know,  the toxic environment of working with sort of male military doctors, right? And not all of them are good, bad or indifferent. It doesn’t really matter. But I understand the environment because you don’t want to appear or one does not want to appear weak. But I want to make a slight equivalency here, right. And that is this. If you had broken your leg and used crutches. Right? Nobody would consider you weak. Even the most toxically, you know, masculine doctor would still not say, oh, there’s a weak person. But for some reason, there’s still this stigma attached to sort of mental health where the psychiatrist really is like those crutches, maybe the psychologist as well. Maybe it’s the fact that they can’t see the pain. Whereas with a broken leg, they can see the pain. Yeah, it’s still not right. It’s not right, right. But I’m like, if you can understand the fact that somebody has physical pain, you should be able to understand the fact that they have emotional pain or that they are having a mental health issue. That’s what I think. Anyway, I want to get into the technology stuff in a second. But first, I want to get into this transition somebody much smarter than I am once said that the measure of intelligence is the ability to change. And I want to understand for you, what was the impetus for you to change from dentistry which you said you practiced for two years, too? 

Kanpassorn Eix   

After six years of training,

Michael Waitze 

After six years of training, yeah. What made you what was the impetus to change from dentistry to wellness and mental health because you knew when you were younger already, that there were these issues out there? Right, not just with you, but with a wide swath of society. So what made you change?

Kanpassorn Eix   

It was quite unintentional, to be very honest. I’ve never think of myself as an entrepreneur. Or I’ve never dream of being an entrepreneur. Because I came from medical background kind of family where most of my families are either dentists or doctors, and most likely we do not like to talk about money. And that’s kind of like, some sort of stigma.

Michael Waitze   

I understand. My brother’s a neurosurgeon, his wife is a reconstructive plastic surgeon, they’re both doctors as well, and you can’t get them like doctors just about money. Yeah.

Kanpassorn Eix   

Yeah, it seems ruthless to talk about money and also seems like a more appropriate, more ethically sound to not talk about it or seems like you hate it. Something like that. 

Michael Waitze   

I understand. 

Kanpassorn Eix   

So I was groomed that way. So I do not think I’ve never thought of becoming one and also, I studied dentistry because of very obvious my family background. Most of them are dentists. And I have a clinic waiting for me. And yeah, so why not? Why not study as a dentist, that’s why I trained myself as a dentist. And but for my depression condition, I think it started happening with me for a really long time, I think for the very first moment that I have some sort of experience with mental health when I was 15 years old. So by then I was I do not know if that’s is actually depression or not, but I’m having a huge amount of stress, I do not know how to deal with issues I have with my life. And also I do not know what to do. So I call to mental health hotline, as advertised by the government. So I actually do not know what to do I see that as a life problem, not like a mental wellness kind of problem. So I call there and I try to find answers for it, and with nothing, they really didn’t really. So I feel hopeless afterwards, after calling. Because the person on the other side, there might not be trained professionally, but they might be someone who went through a course and was set to provide so is there. So they will actually try to understand what I try to say or actually try to help me go through the questions. So I feel really, really bad. and then after that, I think mental is something that was always with me, something that I always have to deal with for a longest time. I have seen maybe five or six psychiatrists, and I actually was having this idea about setting up this technology solution back then it doesn’t have a name. I think it’s cool, I think is incredible. If I can get it done, it can save a lot of people’s life. That was after, like, after joining the military for two years. And at that time, I got enrolled, I was accepted to train a specialty. I’m sorry, in maxillofacial surgery training program Well, in dental school, somewhere else. So I went there and trained for seven months. And then during the journey, I have this depression crisis hitting me again. So at that moment, I feel like, okay, I have to do something with this. Because this is going to be with me my whole life. And what do I want to do more? Like, do I want to spend another like, three years and a half and become a surgeon? Or do I feel like, I have this idea, I already initially set up something, I might not have enough time to 100% focus on it. But it’s actually a great idea if I actually try to not only fix this for myself, but also for someone else. So that’s when I decided to change my mind that I want to focus on Ooca more, I understand. So that’s when I stopped everything and then focus on trying to make it happen.

Michael Waitze   

What was the reaction from your family and friends when you said I’m going to stop doing this and I’m going to start doing that?

Kanpassorn Eix  

To be quite honest, I am quite the stubborn one in the family. So actually, they felt good that I stopped the training because my family didn’t want me to become a surgeon. They want me to train as something else because I have scoliosis.

Michael Waitze   

Okay.

Kanpassorn Eix  

Yeah, so I have scoliosis, it’s actually so I’m technically not built to be a surgeon in a long run and my mom, my dad, they would rather have me train at something else. And when I told them okay, I will stop and focus on Ooca there. I do not know if they pretend to be or not, but they sound like they’re happy that I switch. And maybe they might have thought that maybe sometime in the future, they will persuade me to do something else in dentistry instead, but right now, I stopped the training so that’s great already. That might be what I have felt. Yeah.

Michael Waitze  

Okay, well, that’s good, though. At least it was a positive reaction, right?

Kanpassorn Eix   

Yeah, it was positive.

Michael Waitze   

When did you found Ooca, by the way.

Kanpassorn Eix   

Um, it was technically up and running 2017 but the company actually, we just started 2016.

Michael Waitze  

Got it. So you mentioned earlier that you thought technology could facilitate making mental health better. Can you talk a little bit about how, just from an assessment and a confidentiality standpoint, and just through the whole value chain, technology makes this solution work.

Kanpassorn Eix  

So when I started off Ooca, is a telemedicine platform focusing on helping people connect better with psychiatrists and psychologists. So we choose to have them connect through video calls. So we have this web RTC peer to peer system going on. And we store no data during the calls. But of course, we have this, we have this EHR system that were built on our own, up to the standards of HIPAA, in order to make this in par with medical standards. Because it’s important to record something so that the progress could be tracked. And also, it is more technically correct in terms of the fact that you’re providing medical care. So this is actually a bit controversial, not like not that controversial, but when you talk about mental wellness, is quite, in my opinion, is quite shocking that for some psychology school, they never taught the student how to write notes. They wouldn’t know, they never taught the students how to record the notes. So there’s no standards, there’s no standards tied to that. So it’s really frustrating. So actually, like for some of our provider, like, for the calls, for the psychologists, this is their first time actually trying to write and record things systematically. Yeah, but then, of course, everything is encrypted.

Michael Waitze    

 I was gonna say, but how can they give proper service to like a returning patient, if they’re not making systematic notations about what the last sort of status was of that patient’s condition?

Kanpassorn Eix   

Of course, like, I wonder about that, too.

Michael Waitze    

I take notes on every podcast that I do. So the next time that I talk to somebody I can know exactly, and I have a system that I use, actually, so that I can categorize things, you’re saying that they’re not even taught how to do that.

Kanpassorn Eix   

Yeah, it sounds weird, right. But it’s actually like that. There’s no like, standardized, like versions for psychological note taking system. So I tried to implement from the medical standpoint. And I guide them how to input the notes. I think it might be the fact that psychology, like the the craft itself is pretty new, comparing to other types of medical domains. So maybe that’s why and also, not only  to mention about, about the, the expertise itself, but the fact that is sprouting from stem from the places like Europe, or the US. Psychology around here is much more in it’s very early, early stage. Maybe that’s why. I do not know, there might be some other places in the world that do provide trainings, in more systematic approach. But for some reasons, some of the psychologists that I have a chance to work with most of them they do not know how to write notes, and they’re so frustrated. They might judge something they might write down as diaries, but that’s not like usually medical notes are structured. So on top of all of that, you asked about security privacy, so everything they wrote is encrypted. And also we follow the fact that everything must be accepted by the patient that this is constant,  that there will be this particular note. Right after the service, and and of course, we have to follow the protocol. Since back then there was no Thailand protocol. So we follow HIPAA. And right now we have PDPA, which is going to be activated on first August this year, we have to follow PDPA, which is Thailand’s protocol as well. Oh, and for the privacy for the identification. So just like usual apps, we have to use like usernames log in, two factor authentication, and also right on the app, you do not have to use real name, you can go by any names that you like, names are only just for doctors to talk to you. Yeah, what to call you. 

Michael Waitze    

What kind of feedback do you get from both sides? I mean, one of the things you said earlier was that there’s a supply demand problem, right? In other words, if you go to an office, and there are 200 people waiting, it takes you six hours to get there and two hours to wait. What kind of feedback Are you getting both from the psychologists and psychiatrists, but also from the potential patients that are using the service.

Kanpassorn Eix   

I would say that it the supply and demand side type of issue, which is usually the very first bottleneck you will find, if you are trying to come up with some sort of marketplace, telemedicine platform. Getting the first provider is always always the hardest obstacles that you have to overcome. And once you manage to find your first champion, then it’s going to be a little easier to find like the first 20. And then, but it’s not, I’m not saying that it’s easy, it’s going to be very hot still, there’s going you have to make them happy. You have to make them trust you. You have to make them know that you’re very serious about what you’re doing. And you try to make everything right. And this is something in particular that lean will not will not help. Yeah, 

Michael Waitze    

what do you mean like going lean

Kanpassorn Eix   

Like going lean, like what usually startup would go for, like, going lean, lean startups, that’s where, like, most of the time you get to launch NVP as soon as right. But for telemedicine type or medical type, especially when you’re from a medical background, it’s unhelpful, you have to be sure that it’s going to do no harm to the patient and is going to at least on par with the standards that’s already there. So it’s quite I would say that on the setup, on the pathway to setup, building trust and everything, come up with protocol all the support. And so it is going to be hard, but once it’s on, it’s on.  Right now we have more than hundreds of providers with us on the platform. I would say that Ooca has the most number of psychiatrists, and psychologists in Thailand, comparing where there’s only around 1000 psychiatrists registered, including ones that are not active. So that’s actually a huge number, a large number. But coming to the first statement, where like, how does it like when they’re pretty much overwhelmed in office? I will say that it sounds funny, right? Because it sounds like they will not have enough time to be on our platform. But actually, they can do it past their office hours. And actually, I would say that their incentives on working in the private hospitals or working in public hospital is drastically different. So those that are pretty much overwhelmed by numbers of patients are usually  from the public sector. So the public hospital, especially Thailand, we have this fancy scheme, the universal health care and like the social security care and such and also we have this what fancy civil officer care, like, we support people’s health really, really well. But the quantity is overwhelmed and is stuck right in most of public hospital, that’s why the queue is quite long. And when the queue is long, and the nature of mental health kind of condition is that you would have that problem for a certain period of time. And once that time is gone, you do not have it anymore, sometimes it comes back. But if you wait too long is either that the condition is already gone, or you’re not there anymore. But so yeah, so usually, the queue is ongoing for so long, and it’s back up, and you have to wait long, long, long time. And when the time comes, you don’t need it. And most of time, patients skip, so. So you will see a lot of time, especially in the private clinics that patients would just skip a lot. That was skipped a lot. And not too many will show up. But I wouldn’t say that this is something that would happen like 80% of the time, but it’s something that happens a lot. So I would say that on Ooca we manage things better in terms of schedule management, optimize the the bookings, and also help managing the provider’s booking schedules where they can actually perform whenever they want, they can perform at 2am they can perform at midnight, whatever, whenever they please

Michael Waitze   

So work seems to me to be a source, a main source of stress for people go to work every day, they’re trying to get a job done. They’re trying to support their families? What does it take to convince a company of any size, whether it’s an SME or just like an MNC? Right, that mental health is something that should be important to them? And that they should care about the mental health of their own employees. And then I guess the follow on to that is, how do you give them enough information so they can disintermediate problems before they become too big.

Kanpassorn Eix   

So Ooca’s model, one of the main model is b2b, where we offer service for companies and we provide them in packages so that they can have their employee using Ooca service. And they support the cause. So that’s the usual case. And also we offer them some data, anonymized aggregated data, so that they can actually see the trend and also try to understand more what’s going on within the teams of employees. So that’s what we do. And of course, like, especially in a working group,  they tend to have really, really high stress about work, but most of the time, especially in a conventional type of workplace, and they might not how can i say? I would say that mental health in workplace has slowly become one of the concerns and issues that executives or HR would like to help improve among the corporate world. So I think it’s slowly becoming more common. Because right before this period of time, there’s already there were some companies would holistically care about their employees, not only just a physical health not only just like supplies or tools, but also the mental health, especially those in oil and gas industry, where their employee would have to be in certain condition that might have contribute them to have mental conditions or might have contribute them to form some sort of dependencies on some substances. So it’s a part of their working wellness that they have to care in these aspects of their employees. So, in some certain industry, especially in some industry that requires their employee to work in extreme condition they would care and slowly, slowly like, especially at this period of time when mental health not only just amongst workplaces, I think people care more people will talk more about mental health and will slowly realize that is heavily connected to how one person will perform how one person would be happy or not happy. And therefore that would affect the overall outcome performance of the whole company. So not only just that they have to care about office syndrome, what the the the other possible output of not caring, is stress and stress would affect us a lot in multiple dimensions not only within themselves, but also among peers, and also might even affect some disturbance at their household. It’s something that when HR or the people team of the organization evolved to realize that this is an important issue, and they have to, they have to take care more about it, of course, they will try to look for some solutions. And his way is fortunate that we are in this era where mental health is much more aware, compared to like 10 years ago.

Michael Waitze  

And how does Ooca interact with insurance companies? Like do they cover the services that you have is that included in some of the policies, particularly in the b2b space where you’re working?

Kanpassorn Eix   

We are actually in conversation with some insurance company, I would say that most of them show interest in us. But here’s something withThai policy in general. Thai health policy in general, most of them do not cover mental health. Most of them only covers physical health. And there might be some, but it’s very rare that they will cover mental health. We’re not even talking about like telemedicine in mental health, but General, like mental and physical setting as a whole right now ,doesn’t have that much of a recognition in insurance scene. But I will say that is not that they do not see the importance, it’s just that they do not know how to properly deal with it yet. It’s like, they’re seeing something that they’re quite sure that if they are trying to offer this kind of service to the clients, it will take up. And that’s the part is scary. If it takes up too high, then they’re not making profits. So they’re trying to find ways to work around the stats, maybe to see how can it be delivered? How could it be offered? So I would say that mental health and insurance is important is not available in the mass yet, but yes, it does have some space for it, especially in in private company offerings type of insurance.

Michael Waitze   

Look, I think that’s a great way to end. This was just an insanely great conversation. And I really want to thank you for coming in and doing this.. Kanpassorn Eix Suriyasangpetch founder and CEOat Ooca, I do the best I can. You are awesome today. Thank you so much.

Kanpassorn Eix    

Thank you. Thank you so much. Do you want to ask some questions about the disruption thing that you usually ends with?

Michael Waitze  

I can end with that if you want. Do you want to give? Do you want to give some companies advice on how to do you want to give in comments, advice on how they can better deal with disruption? If you have an opinion on it?

Kanpassorn Eix   

I think disruption is already old. You shouldn’t be talking about it. If you start talking about it today, you’re so outdated Then why are you talking about it today?  Like, you should aware of it while you’re talking about it. It should be something that happens naturally. Disruption happens every day. Today. You change the way you wear your pants. Today, you change the way you walk, today you see things that is not good enough and you want to change it. And you shouldn’t be scared of disruption because this word is already something like four years ago. Do whatever you have to do. In my opinion.

Michael Waitze   

That’s good enough for me. Thanks again.

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