London-based Sandip Sekhon developed the pain-therapy app Pathways out of his own pain relief needs. After a life-changing meeting with a physiotherapist with knowledge of pain science, he got better and was 100% pain-free in just a couple of months. By then he realized the potential of pain therapy using evidence-based mind-body techniques, and thus Pathways was created.
Hi Sandip! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
My name’s Sandip Sekhon, I’m 36, based in London, and my educational and professional working background is in finance and banking. That switched to Internet entrepreneurship 10 years ago, and I haven’t looked back!
I’m currently the CEO and Founder of the pain therapy app Pathways. Pathways uses a natural, mind-body approach to help chronic pain patients get rid of persistent pain. We operate a freemium subscription model, backed by a money-back guarantee.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My first major Internet business success was with the crowdfunding site GoGetFunding.com. It’s a business I continue to run, and I’m humbled to say that we’ve grown to be one of the largest fundraising sites out there, helping people raise millions each month for causes they care about.
I’d tirelessly work on the site, and eventually, that led to chronic pain throughout both of my arms, diagnosed as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). This left me unable to work, and even perform basic daily activities. I went through years of failed treatments, which culminated in two invasive and unnecessary surgeries on both of my arms.
It’s only once I met a physiotherapist with knowledge of pain science that I was able to understand and treat my pain. She explained how due to years of pain and pain-anxiety, my nervous system had become overprotective and sensitized - causing pain at any hint of danger. I had to train my brain and body away from pain.
I discovered that there are decades of science on central pain sensitization. I learned that when pain persists beyond three months, our brain and nervous system start to learn pain and irrespective of the condition of your body, you can continue feeling real pain long after an injury has healed.
That didn’t mean the pain was all just in my head or that I could simply think it away. It meant that I needed to practice both mind and body techniques to train my nervous system to be less sensitive and protective.
I finally understood how trying to find and fix ‘issues in the tissues’ that could explain the pain, was doomed to fail. No amount of physio, surgery, or diet changes could cure my pain. Instead, I had to tackle every thought, belief, and behavior that was keeping me locked in a pain cycle.
Using evidence-based mind-body techniques, I was able to become 100% pain-free in just a couple of months. Life-changing.
I realized just how many millions of people around the world continue to battle with chronic pain, which will fail to find relief unless they take a complete approach to pain treatment.
This fuelled immense motivation to create a product that could take a skeptical pain sufferer like me, to being pain-free. There was nothing like that out there, and knowing a product like this could make a huge difference to so many people, I decided to create it.
How did you build Pathways?
I figured that the most accessible format for Pathways would be in an app format. So I began searching for suitable teams, whilst creating the content for our pain therapy program.
The first version (MVP) of the app took 3 months to develop (longer than I’d like) but was good enough for us to gauge the response from potential customers. We ran some ads on Facebook, and to my delight, a handful of people were happy to pay for the premium content.
And more importantly, we started getting reviews like this:
“I've had years of back and neck pain that stopped me working. 6 weeks into this program and I'm having my first pain free moments. Thank you!”
That’s when I knew this was definitely worth pursuing further. By this stage, I realized that in order to really build out a good app, we needed to switch the software our app ran on from Unity 3D to React Native.
I hired a new team that I was confident would help us build out a market-ready version on React Native, but after 8 months, they failed to deliver. We had wasted thousands of pounds and precious time. If it wasn’t for my deep motivation on this project, I would have moved on at this stage.
I took away what I could - some very valuable hiring lessons - and moved on. Thankfully, I found another team that I was a lot more confident in and they started to work to recover Pathways.
It wasn’t easy, fast, or cheap, but we were moving in the right direction. After another 3 months of effort, we were able to release a stable version on React Native - although still a fairly basic app.
I took an objective look at what it would really take to offer the best digital pain product, and we were still some way off. So my team and I started to develop ideas on how we can take this from a mediocre app to an amazing one.
After another 9 months of development and content creation, just this week we released our best version yet. I’m finally confident in our product, and it’s the ability to really make a life-changing difference to pain sufferers.
Here are some of the super cool things available in our latest version:
- Our audio pain relief program is now a video program.
- We have a brand new exercise, yoga, and physio area.
- Our new masterclasses go deep into specific healing topics.
- We offer an innovative way for users to track pain, and factors that affect wellbeing.
- We’ve added 100s of interesting and unique challenges to help people get past the pain.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
When we initially released, Facebook ADs worked well and we were able to drive enough traffic in order to test whether or not the app works, and helps people.
During the last few months, we’ve begun releasing a lot of in-depth pain science content on our blog. This has started to gain more and more traffic, which I believe (and hope) will continue into the future.
By next month, we’d like to start running ads - beginning with a Universal App Campaign. And in 2-3 months, I believe we’ll be in a position to create regular good content for our YouTube channel.
App subscribers have been organically growing (with revenue along with that). Although we’re still some way away from breaking even and the true test will be how well we’re able to convert traffic once we begin advertising.
Even the initial marketing of this business versus previous ventures has helped me realize just how much Google, Facebook, and other traffic sources have changed over the years. You can no longer create something, publish a few articles, and hope to gain traffic. To survive and thrive, business owners truly need to create something great. You need to consistently put in the effort to make your product worth talking about, sharing, and linking to. You need to be a specialist in your area to reap the rewards.
I see these increased barriers to entry as a good thing - fly-by-night operations have less chance of succeeding and businesses that make a real investment into their product and content will over time, make the most progress.
What are your goals for the future?
My vision is for Pathways to undoubtedly become the best digital pain product. Here are some of the improvements planned for the next 12 to 18 months to help that become a reality:
- Patient/Doctor Connect Facilities
- Doctor Dashboard to View Patient Progress
- In-App Social Features
- Offering a wider range of exercise class options
- Medication Efficacy Tracking
- Relaxing VR Experiences
- Hoping to triple our user base
What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?
The biggest obstacle throughout the project was the technical build of the cross-platform apps. The next major challenge was creating all the content needed for Pathways.
We needed to ensure the content was evidence-based, understandable by a large variety of people, and applicable to many different pain conditions.
Which are your greatest disadvantages? What were your worst mistakes?
The biggest mistake was the somewhat rushed hire of our first React Native team. That set us back by almost a year. Although on the positive, this helped me to really understand the kind of team that would be needed to help this project excel.
As a product, the disadvantages of it at the moment is that we haven’t run any medical trials that will help us quantify just how much it helps pain sufferers. That’s now a priority.
If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?
If I was to do things differently, I would have started Pathways as a web-app. That would help us get to market much quicker and with fewer costs. However, on the flip side, we’ve now done the hard work by creating cross-platform apps.
What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
The Lean Startup: The biggest lesson for me in this was ensuring I constantly fail, test, and adapt.
Tim Ferriss’ YouTube Channel: Bitesize info on everything from wellbeing to stoicism, business, and beyond.
Where can we go to learn more?
Pathways Homepage: Understand what our app does, and download it for iOS or Android
Pathways Blog: This is where we’re producing most of our content. We’re aiming to continue producing in-depth pieces of key pain management topics. For example, see our post (also known as a ‘pillar page’) on pain management techniques. We’ll be creating similar posts on other key pain-related topics.
My RSI Recovery Story: A detailed take on my journey with RSI pain, and how I was able to overcome it.