Interview with Helen Marsden, Chief Commercial Officer of MediChecks

When former City worker and mum of five Helen Marsden couldn’t find an affordable way to get her bloodwork tested, she decided to offer the service herself. She tells us how MediChecks was born.

What’s your career background?

I spent over 20 years working in the City, first as an investment manager and then in business development and management roles. It’s where I learned some useful skills, such as taking a complicated subject and communicating it in a way that our customers, not all of whom were financial experts, could understand.

This is a key part of what I do now; Medichecks sells blood tests and health checks direct to the consumer and there’s no point in buying a blood test if you can’t understand what the result is telling you.

I work closely with our team of doctors to make sure that all our results come with clear interpretation and actionable advice that our customers can easily understand.

How did your career change after having children?

It didn’t. Well not first time around at least. I have five children and four of them were born when I worked in the City. At that stage it was business as usual and nothing changed.

However, by the time child number five came along, with my second husband Alun, my circumstances were different and I left my job in the City on the same day that my maternity leave began. I joined my family business with a clear remit to set up a heath testing company, which gave me the freedom to work when and where I wanted.

For the first time in my life I was effectively my own boss, and what a liberation that was.

Where did the idea for the business come from?

It came from me wanting the service for myself. Ever since I was in my teens I’ve had a deep interest in health. I read widely, mostly books and articles featuring American doctors who were leading the idea that our lifestyles were causing most, if not all, of the diseases of ageing.

Every patient case study in the book had had their bloodwork done. I wanted my bloodwork done too. But where could I go? My options were my GP who had neither the inclination or the budget to test me, or to pay a private doctor a hefty consultation fee to get a referral for a private blood test.

I felt strongly that if I wanted the service then others would want it too – I was right, but probably about six years too early.

How did it move from idea to actual business?

First I had to convince my family business that it was a good idea. Fortunately my passion for it inspired my younger brother Ceri who is now our chairman, and last year also inspired my husband who is now our CEO.

I set about researching the market, and found a fledgling company that was already selling blood tests online. We approached them and ended up buying the business. That was in 2008, and we have built the business from what was essentially an online catalogue of laboratory tests to a consumer brand in the health testing market.

What’s your USP?

Its accessibility, affordability and convenience. We sell over 1,200 blood tests from single health markers like vitamin D, to full screens for general health, fertility, thyroid and hormone balance to name but a few.

All our tests can be bought online and because we don’t have the overheads of running clinics we can keep our prices as low as possible. And I can’t understate convenience. Most of our best-selling blood tests can be done with a finger-prick sample collection that you can do in the comfort of your own home.

This has huge appeal for busy people juggling work and families, especially as most of us can’t get a doctor’s appointment when we want one anymore.

Who’s your target audience?

Everybody – from ill people who want a diagnosis or a means of monitoring their condition, to everyday people who just want to make sure everything is ok, to health optimisers who want to track everything from steps to calories to blood markers.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Most of our advertising is online – if you want to buy a blood test and search online you will find MediChecks, and most of our customers come to us this way. We ask everyone who buys from us how they found us and increasingly we see that friends have recommended us.

This sort of referral is fantastic. Not only is it free, it means that we’ve had a satisfied customer. And social media is becoming increasingly important – we’re already active on social media but we’re planning to expand and increase our social media usage too.

Health is a great unifier and some of the most active online communities are there because they share an illness, symptoms or health and fitness goals. These are communities that we can reach through social media.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Literally creating the market in UK for consumer blood tests. When we bought MediChecks there was a glimmer that this could be an exciting market. It remained just a glimmer for a long time – we were a bit ahead of our time!

But in the last few years things have changed; people are better educated about their health, more prepared to take control of their own health and more willing to spend their discretionary income on their health. This trend is still in its infancy but it is growing rapidly and MediChecks is perfectly positioned to take advantage of it.

And your proudest moment so far?

See above. Sometimes in a business you can hang on too long to what you hope is a good idea but it never really takes off.

We were patient and spent our early years experimenting, finding out who our customers were, how they found us, what they bought and what price points were important. We learned a huge amount that has helped us to hone our product and service. We are not perfect, we’re still learning, but we are incredibly proud that our patience is being rewarded.

Why is work so important to you?

It’s been shown over and over in studies on ageing that keeping your brain active, being interested and engaged and having strong social networks is a factor in longevity. For me (and for many of us) my work provides all these things.

I’m fascinated with our product, I love the new avenues my work takes me down, whether that is finding out more about autoimmune diseases, or how to generate likes on Facebook, and I have meet some great people who have also become my friends.

I’m not saying that I couldn’t do all these things within my personal life, but when I can do it and build a business at the same time, well why not?

How do you balance your business with your family?

I do most of my work from home and fit meetings and trips to our office in during school hours. I work late into the evening during the week, and school holidays can be a bit of a nightmare, but generally I’m around for our son in a way that I wasn’t for my older children.

Working for myself has given me the flexibility to bring some balance into family life which has been great for all of us.

What are your top three pieces of advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Not three pieces of advice, just three words: Ready. Fire. Aim; in that order!

This is a book by Michael Masterson which I read when I was just starting out on my own. The title sums it up – don’t spend so much time perfecting your business idea and your proposition that you never bring it to market at all. You need to be out there, selling, learning and finessing.

Running a business is a question of testing and adjusting. There is a place for perfection, but don’t let it paralyse you into doing nothing at all.

You can find out more about MediChecks on their website