Soft-spoken Ramin Bastani has lost track of the number of times he's been tested for STDs, but in the last two years, he guesses it's at least 50. "I hate needles even now," he says. When he does subject himself to the process these days, it's not because he's been getting frequent anonymous action. It's for company research.
Bastani is the founder and CEO of Hula, an app that helps users find and rate clinics that test for sexually transmitted diseases. Bastani is no Rico Suave—he describes himself as awkward. But at a Health 2.0 conference earlier this month, he was introduced to the crowd as the "safest man to have sex with in America," and the title has stuck.
"Oh, my girlfriend hates that one," Bastani told Fast Company.
The story of Hula's origins go back to a night out on the town when he, fresh out of a long-term relationship, met a woman whom he brought back to his place. Just when things started getting hot and heavy, the question came up: Did he have any STDs? However he answered, it must not have been the right way. "She steps away and says, 'You have an STD.' She smacks me across the face, tells me to eff off, and walks out of the room," Bastani recalls. Even though he had a clean bill of health, he had no easy way of proving it—and the young woman had no way of knowing for sure if he was being truthful, for that matter. "I sat there thinking there has to be a better way," Bastani says.
His company, then known as Qpid.me, gained traction in 2010 when changes to HIPAA laws allowed users to sign medical documents electronically on a mobile device or with a mouse. That allowed the app to request documents on behalf of users by faxing clinics, which were then obliged to send over patient documents within 15 days. The records, which are encrypted, can be shared with potential partners, who gesture on the app to unzip others' profiles. Bastani considers the interaction a flirtatious version of the childhood game "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours."
Named for the leis he brings to presentations (they're a punchline to his opening, "Who wants to get leid?"), Hula is currently in talks to incorporate results into dating apps and sites. Since reports come directly from clinics—users can't upload their own results—STD statuses are, in essence, verified by Hula, which also reminds users to get tested again in the future. "The incentive is to be tested more often and have more recent dates on profiles because it makes you more attractive on dating profiles and in person," he said. "I think we can reduce most major STDs by 50% in a few years as it's adopted in dating sites."
Described as a Yelp for STDs, Hula, which soft launched three weeks ago with its new brand identity, has received close to $1 million in angel funding. In addition to clinic reviews, which it plans to include in the coming weeks, the company is looking to change how patients access their medical records. "Generally, when you get tested, clinics say, 'If you don't hear from us in two weeks, no news is good news.' That's infuriating, but it's the only way these cash-strapped health clinics can get results to their patients," he explained. But people can fall through the cracks. Bastani cited one Hula user who only learned he had chlamydia through the app six months after his STD test.
As for his current girlfriend, who he's been in a relationship with for more than a year, Bastani said she, too, saw the usefulness of Hula. "She totally got it because she had experienced that problem where you can't necessarily trust the other person, when and what those results were," he said. "So she immediately signed up for this service" after they met, he added.
[Image: Flickr user Guian Bolisay]