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Zeel, the Crunchier Zocdoc for Alternative Healthcare, Now Lists 2,300 Massage Therapists, Acupuncturists, and More

"Some people are like, 'Hey, I can get a better massage than at Bliss Spa.'"
samerhamadeh headshot Zeel, the Crunchier Zocdoc for Alternative Healthcare, Now Lists 2,300 Massage Therapists, Acupuncturists, and More

Mr. Hamadeh

Betabeat first met Zeel, a Zocdoc-type appointment-booking service, last month when the mentoring program Startup “Don’t Call Us An Incubator” Health announced its inaugural class. The New York-based company vets alternative healthcare providers like specialized massage therapists, chiropractors, registered dietitians, acupuncturists. Users can search listings by price, location, years of experience, and certification.

The company makes money if you book an appointment through Zeel. Service providers are charged a 12 to 13 percent fee, inclusive of credit card fees, which ends up netting Zeel about $9 per transaction. Zocdoc, on the other hand, makes money by charging physicians to be listed on its site.

Today, Zeel announced a second tranche of investors in a seed round that TechCrunch reports totals $1.5 million. The latest infusion of capital was led by  Prolog Ventures, VC firm focusing in life sciences and healthcare, along with Shopwell.com CEO Brian Witlin, an entrepreneur-in-residence at IDEO, angel investor Ritesh Veera, as well FAO Ventures founder Farooq Oomerbhoy.

With providers offering massages and acupuncture treatments, we weren’t sure if this was supposed to be about pampering or actual healthcare. (After all, the tagline at the top of the site mentions “beauty.”) CEO Samer Hamadeh, a former EIR at Lightspeed Venture, who cofounded Zeel with his wife, assured us it was the latter. “We’re tilted toward what I like to say is the more medically-oriented nature of health and wellness,” he explained over the phone. “Unfortunately there’s no terminology in this space that’s accepted across the board or approved by everybody. It’s very annoying! I’m going to have us lead the effort to name what this industry is. Doctors call it integrated medicine. The NIH calls it complementary and alternative medicine, which they shorten to CAM. Some people call it healthy living. It’s just nuts.”

Although there are yoga and pilates instructors on the site, he said, “they actually have these extra certification for arthritis, sports injury, neck pain, and more medically-oriented modalities. The preponderance of our customers have issues that they’re dealing with and were referred to by a doctor.”

Since launching in January, Zeel has expanded from listing 1,000 practitioners up to 2,300 in 11 different cities. Because they started in New York, about half are located here. Thus far, Zeel has managed to sync up about a third the providers’ schedules and plans on adding more. That’s vital to the service because it makes booking appointments easier. Mr. Hamadeh pointed out that Zeel actually has an easier time with this than Zocdoc since doctors typically use one of the 1,400 different practice management software systems, which are often client-server based, rather than the dozens of internet-based scheduling calendars out there like Google Calendar, Schedulicity or Genbook.

“Zocdoc has been very clever in creating the illusion of realtime availability, but they aren’t really synching. They’re painstakingly trying to get doctors to actually be online,” he said, in some instances writing code to surface when doctors are available rather than being able to easily automate the process. However, he acknowledged that that may be changing. With the Zocdoc’s newfound power in the market and recent regulations about modernizing healthcare infrastructure, Mr. Hamadeh said he heard Zocdoc was able to convince some of the practice management software providers to assist with realtime scheduling.

Thus far, the most popular services on Zeel have been the ones that “don’t require the consumers to do any work,” said Mr. Hamadeh. “Massage–I like to joke that you’re just lying down on the table and it’s kind of nice, as opposed to yoga or personal training where you’re tying to improve an injured joint.”

There are customers on our site who just want a really nice massage in their hotel room or home,” he said. “Some people are like, ‘Hey, I can get a better massage than at Bliss Spa.’ And they really can.” But Zeel was designed to help customers who have pain or chronic conditions and are booking appointments every week. “We don’t turn away the luxury customers, but they have a lot of options. They can go to a spa or get a Groupon.” Patients with fibromyalgia, he said, don’t have those choices.

In the month or so that Zeel has been working with Startup Health, the program has already been helpful in making introductions with the heads at consumer innovation at the all the major insurers. With rising healthcare costs, Mr. Hamadeh noted, insurers are “very motivated” to get in front of the notion of consumers taking charge of their own health.

“I have a slide in my pitch deck that I keep refining showing that the average back pain patient has insurers and employers spending $10,000 to alleviate back pain with surgery and drugs, and it isn’t working.” With alternative healthcare, he claims, ” You can literally spend $3,000,” and get better results.

“If we do our job right,” said Mr. Hamadeh, “Insurance companies are going to work with us and say, ‘Here’s a pot of money that our members at Aetna or Oxford can spend on these practitioners.’ And we hope they’ll choose us to sort of build that platform for them.”

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com