Helen Marsden & Alun Hindle – the business couple at the helm of MediChecksLast Updated: December 1, 2018
Helen Marsden and Alun Hindle are a married couple at the head of MediChecks, the successful UK-based direct-to-consumer health testing company. They spoke to AGENT about the MediChecks story to date.
HELEN Marsden and Alun Hindle, respectively the CCO and CEO of MediChecks, are one of the more unusual entrepreneurial pairings to have featured on AGENT, in that they’re a life partnership as well as a successful business one.
Prior to the foundation of MediChecks in 2002, Helen Marsden worked in business development in the City of London. She had a passion for health and an interest in the home blood-testing that was popular in the US but almost non-existent in Britain, and encouraged her family business to purchase MediChecks, a small business selling blood tests online. When MediChecks began to take off, Helen persuaded her husband Alun Hindle, a City investment manager, to join MediChecks as CEO.
Today, MediChecks is a fully-fledged direct-to-consumer health testing company, selling more than 1,200 blood tests and health tests online. The tests are sent to one of the UK’s foremost, state-of-the-art accredited laboratories in the heart of London’s medical district, meaning that company clients can be confident of accurate, reliable results.
MediChecks aims to provide affordable, convenient, confidential and accurate health screening to individuals who need to understand their own health issues and do not want to wait for important test results. The MediChecks tests also assist people who wish to know whether their fitness and wellbeing regimes are having the desired results.
Helen and Alun recently spoke with AGENT and told us more about the story of MediChecks so far, where they see the company going in the future, and their experience of striking a balance between life and work as a married couple at the head of a successful business.
Tell us what your business is about, and describe your business goals.
“Technology is delivering a revolution in health care and we are very much part of that movement.”
Alun: MediChecks is a direct-to-consumer health testing company. We sell blood tests and health checks online, making the process easy, affordable and accessible to everyone, wherever they are in the country.
We sell over 1,200 different tests from single biomarkers, for, say, testosterone or vitamin D, to comprehensive profiles, which cover all of the body’s main organs including heart, liver and kidneys, as well as nutritional status and hormones.
All of our tests are sent to fully accredited laboratories and many can be conducted at home using a finger-prick sample collection method. Results are made available online on a visual dashboard with an explanation of each biomarker and an interpretation from a MediChecks doctor.
People love our service for the convenience it provides – no need for time off work for doctor’s appointments – just a simple test that you can do at home and post to the laboratory.
Our business goal is to be the household name for home health testing. The market is growing quickly as more and more digital providers of all forms of health care come into the market.
Whether you want to talk to a doctor, get a prescription, or have a blood test, you can now do it all without leaving the comfort of your own home – technology is delivering a revolution in health care and we are very much part of that movement.
What is your background? When did you decide on a career in business, and why?
Helen: My background is the City. I spent the first part of my career helping grow investment management companies in business development roles. But ever since I can remember I’ve had a fascination with health. I read everything there was to read, much of which came from the US, where they were always sending people off to have their bloodwork done.
I was in the UK and wanted my bloodwork done too. But how? There lies the germ of an idea! I left the City and persuaded my family business to buy MediChecks, a fledgling company selling blood tests online. The rest, as they say, is history.
Alun: My background is also in the City and is in fact where I met Helen—we both worked for the same company. However, I soon branched out to other things, joining Virgin as an investment manager, which gave me great exposure to the whole stable of Virgin businesses.
I was part of a team that led Virgin’s entry into Formula 1, and I remained with the team in its various guises until my wife poached me to come to MediChecks! Why was I interested? I love taking a business from small to big. We built a Formula 1 team in less than a year. My job as CEO of MediChecks is to scale the business while making sure we still deliver excellence and reliability in all aspects of what we do.
What gives you the most satisfaction in your business?
Helen: For me it’s definitely seeing the concept of blood tests as a consumer product gain acceptance. People are ready to take control of their own health now, whereas even a few years ago many people wouldn’t dream of taking a health check without going through their doctor. There has been a real shift to patient power – and it’s still in its infancy.
Alun: For me it’s the satisfaction of seeing the team grow – developing our home-grown talent, as well finding smart people who can bring something new to the business.
Who are your business icons and inspirations?
“You’re never too old to be an entrepreneur!”
Alun: I worked for Branson for five years, so he would be an obvious choice, but I don’t really go in for the cult of leadership business-inspiration.
I do, however, admire what Amancio Ortega has done. Few people know who he is, but he has built his family’s dressmaking company into one of the world’s biggest clothing chains (Zara) and is on-and-off the world’s richest man.
He doesn’t court the media but regularly takes lunch with the shop floor workers to help him remain grounded in the business and connected to his workforce. This shows that he is interested in every facet of his company, down to the smallest detail, which is an admirable trait in my opinion.
You are much more likely to command the respect of your colleagues if you engage with them and listen to what they have to say – and you can’t lead without respect. Ultimately he lets his business success do the talking for him and that is quite refreshing in this day and age.
Helen: My father (sadly, no longer with us) who, having built a long and successful career in the oil business, retired at 60 and started the family business that now owns MediChecks.
When most people are picking up their golf clubs he was spotting opportunities, buying companies, and running businesses. You’re never too old to be an entrepreneur!
What has been your biggest challenge in business and how did you surmount it?
Helen: Our biggest challenge has definitely been to grow the market for an entirely new concept. We’ve had to make blood tests consumer-friendly. We’ve done this by renaming our tests around conditions people will recognise. No-one wants to buy a Glycosylated Haemoglobin test but thousands of people every year will buy it as a Diabetes Check.
Alun: Yes, and pricing is critical in a market where people lack knowledge about what value to put on a blood test. We’ve really had to test our pricing to find the right price points that will drive volume, especially when we are competing with consumer products for the pound in your pocket.
How did you end up working for the same company?
Helen: Having worked with Alun before, I knew that we worked well together. We have very complementary skills. Things had started to take off at MediChecks and I recognised that we needed someone to lead our growth as well as make sure we had the controls and disciplines that you would expect to see in a big company. Alun has this experience in abundance, whereas I am much better at the health issues, looking at how we communicate with our customers, what new tests to offer and why. I think we make a great team!
How do you find the work-life balance, taking account of having a professional relationship with your spouse?
Alun: Well inevitably there is less balance. We can both be tied to our laptops for much of the evening and a lot of our conversation revolves around the business. But to be honest, it’s less of an issue when you are both doing it for the same objective than it would be if I were constantly on my phone when Helen wanted my attention for something else. At least now when she asks me how my day was she is interested in the answer!
What is the first thing you do every day?
Alun: I read The Economist Espresso on my iPhone.
Helen: I get some health inspiration for the day ahead by reading Dr Mercola’s daily email. Unless it’s Wednesday or Sunday, when I will read my Houzz email and get interiors inspiration instead.
What’s the most important app on your phone and why?
Alun: Google Maps – it gets me to wherever I need to be.
Helen: Zombie Castaways, because it keeps our 10-year-old son quiet in the car.
What item do you never leave the house without?
Alun: My iPhone for Google Maps (see above)
What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
Alun: Our new golden retriever puppy named Bear.
Helen: Our two-year-old mongrel called Rue (I’m more loyal than Alun!).
What advice would you give your younger self starting out in business?
Helen: Work in something you feel really passionate about and then it doesn’t feel like work.