How League Plans to Fix Healthcare

Kobo founder Michael Serbinis' new venture aims to stop users from getting sick by simplifying access to health and wellness professionals

Written by Joe Castaldo

Photo: Tetra Images/Getty

Michael Serbinis is a long-time entrepreneur who’s probably best known for hatching Kobo in 2009. Parent company Indigo eventually sold Kobo to Japanese conglomerate Rakuten for $315 million, and Serbinis left the company early last year.

Serbinis wasted little time in starting his next venture. The result is League, a platform for consumers to find and interact with preventative health workers such as physiotherapists and nutritionists. League is currently in beta mode by invitation-only in Toronto, and has plans to launch in other major North American cities this year.

Serbinis explained why he’s betting preventative health presents a huge business opportunity: How would you describe League?

Michael Serbinis: It’s a digital health and wellness platform for consumers as well as health professionals. As a consumer, it’s a place you can go and connect with all of your different preventative health professionals, whether that’s nutritionists, fitness trainers, physios, and many other kinds.

You could, for example, discover a new nutritionist because you’re interested in going gluten-free, or maybe you need a fitness trainer because you want to get fit your first 5K race. We’ll help you discover the best professionals in your neighborhood and book that first appointment. We’ll facilitate payment a la Uber, so direct from your mobile phone. And any content that’s part of your experience with that professional— which today is often a lot of paper—we’ll enable that professional to deliver directly to your mobile device.

When it comes to data from wearables or your health data in general, we’ll collect all of that and help you make use of it by sharing it with your professionals so that they can deliver personalized programs. Throughout, you can message or connect with a professional via instant message, or a Skype-type session with those who want to offer that.

MORE HEALTHCARE INNOVATION: Why Nurse Next Door is Canada’s Smartest Company of 2014 »

PG: It took me a little while to fully understand what League is, and it’s only through talking to you that it became clearer. Could that be a barrier in getting people to sign up?

MS: When I think about these industry transformations, it’s not that some incredible code is being cracked, or there’s some incredible discovery that no one’s seen before. It’s often about making the experience of using the service easier and more accessible.

When it comes to health, the user experience is not great in a number of ways: discovery, scheduling, payment, getting stacks of paper—none of it’s very easy. The user experience is fundamental and it’s been a part of how we’ve been building League from the get-go. So we’re running micro-trials here in Toronto and learning about what’s important and how to make it easy and accessible.

MORE COMMUNICATION BARRIERS: 5 Ways to Tell Great Stories About Your Business »

PG: You also need a lot of health professionals on the platform for this to be worthwhile. How do you get them to join?

MS: The pitch is to progressive heath professionals that believe an ounce of prevention is worth several pounds of cure. So it’s people who are open to technology, and looking for clients who are like-minded. It comes down to helping them grow their business with new clients, delivering better service, and just making their own lives a bit easier.

We’re looking at a set of small businesses and independents that don’t have a small army or staff supporting them. It’s about giving them back minutes or hours in the day by making aspects of their business easier, automated and digital.

MORE PROGRESSIVE SOLUTIONS: Smart Ways to Use Technology to Build Your Business »

PG: So it’s a pretty fragmented market right now?

MS: Exactly. There’s about 1.5 million registered professionals, not including doctors and dentists, that would fall into the preventative category in North America. You find they are extremely fragmented with many different kinds of small businesses or sole proprietorships. They have incomes that don’t look anything like a doctor’s. These are small businesses with the goal of helping people stay healthy, they’re really progressive, and they’re motivated. But they’ve got very little infrastructure, and generally operate their businesses on paper and by cellphone.

PG: How will you make money?

MS: We have a sense of what the revenue model will be and we’ll be testing it over the next while. But as I experienced with Kobo most recently, it’s something you learn along the way.

The idea of a subscription model for the health professionals, where they pay us a monthly fee, is something that we’re currently testing. Then there’s a pure marketplace model, where we get paid for bringing new customers to a health professional. That’s an Uber model. Those are the two  we’re looking at, and it could be a combination of the two.

MORE RECURRING FEES : Why You Should Consider Subscription Pricing »

PG: Are you also banking that this service will change behaviour and get more consumers interested in preventative health?

MS: I use Uber as an example. How many black cars did you take five years ago versus now? It’s just so much easier, and it’s not that much more expensive. So by making something easier and improving the experience, it opens up a pretty big chunk of the market.

From a macro level, spending on preventive health is going to at least double, if not grow by several multiples over the next decade. It has to. There’s no way the current track we’re on is sustainable. As boomers start hitting the system and hitting it hard, we have escalating health care costs. I don’t know how that gets paid for.

Meanwhile, half the costs of the ailments being treated in the system are preventable. Getting ahead of this over the next decade means starting to shift funds now into preventive care. Here, we need to see the emergence of a wellness tax credit. I’m going to be lobbying the feds to do that.

MORE UBER: What Happens When a Great Company has Terrible Marketing? »

PG: Where do you want to be in a year?

MS: I’d like our pilot cities to be going really well, and to have raised capital to do the next 20 to 50 major metropolitan areas. We’ll be prepared to take on North America, that’s the next major step.


What do you think of Serbinis’ plans for League? Share your (constructive) thoughts and feedback in the comments below.

Have you launched a new business you’d like to put under the Business Plan microscope? Email us your pitch.

Originally appeared on