Zara Lord founded uPaged using her nursing experience. Everything else — including tech, navigating startupland and growing a business — she’s learning on the job.
In fact, the first thing she tells StartupSmart is that she, too, is recording the conversation. As it turns out, an interview is a good opportunity to practice pitching out loud.
But this is no reason to underestimate her. Projections show uPaged to be profitable in 12-18 months. Before its launch date in December last year, two Sydney hospitals had already signed on, and another followed soon after.
All this while working as a nurse in the intensive care unit.
Communicating a win-win message
As it stands, short-staffed hospitals typically call nursing agencies, who dispatch registered nurses out for a fee.
“The more we get into the problem we’re trying to solve, the more we see myriad problems that need solving,” Lord says.
uPaged is an online platform that allows hospitals to onboard registered nurses looking for extra shifts without those traditional agencies acting as the middleman — think Uber or Airbnb for nurses looking for extra cash and experience.
Talking to StartupSmart the Monday after a weekend of night shifts as the in-charge nurse — “I’m a bit fuzzy today” — Lord reveals she did research on the tech and business aspects of uPaged on her days off from the hospital.
She’s also worked six years as an agency nurse for other hospitals, giving her first-hand insight into the challenges the current model presented to both management and agency nurses.
“It’s really important to me that I still work as a nurse,” she explains.
“My nursing background has really shaped what I’m doing and every decision we talk about.”
The nurses’ needs
When it comes to the problems uPaged aims to solve, the first is a lack of transparency.
Regularly staffed nurses are usually allocated to patients and wards based on their unique backgrounds and specialties. Meanwhile, their agency counterparts are too anonymous to be afforded the same considerations, but are still expected to fill the gaps.
“It becomes quite a poor experience for agency nurses,” Lord explains.
“They struggle to practice at a high standard, and more importantly, they aren’t trusted or respected by the regular staff.”
Lord surveyed 500 practising agency nurses. These responses solved both Lord’s need for data and testimonials, and formed a base within the target demographic to launch uPaged to.
“I didn’t want to formulate this platform purely based off of my own experiences,” she says.
“I wanted it to be a collective experience for nurses.”
As of today, an estimated 200 nurses are registered to uPaged.
A cost-cutting cure for hospitals
The second issue with the current system is the high cost of service to the hospitals.
“In exchange for the low-quality service that nursing agencies provide, the hospitals are charged quite extraordinary fees — upwards of 40 per cent commission. I’ve seen as high as 104 per cent commission.”
With NSW hospitals spending $15 million last financial year to pay this commission, Lord was able to garner “overwhelming support” from chief executives with just a prototype and a business plan.
As well as a dramatically lower commission, hospitals stand to gain clear profiles on each nurse signing up for shifts and access to feedback from Lord’s research survey to make structural changes to their onboarding practices.
These improved practices then loop back to improve the experience for agency nurses.
“My father was always drilling into us that a good business provides value to the customer,” Lord says.
“It had to be a no-brainer that nurses and hospitals would want to use uPaged.”
Keeping the momentum
Despite playing in the same field, Lord takes care to differentiate uPaged from traditional agencies, nursing and recruitment.
“We’ve got a real job to explain how we’re different to nursing agencies,” she says.
“I would say we’re a ‘digital marketplace’, except that’s not a very nice label for nurses, so I would say we’re an ‘additional talent platform’ when we’re talking to nurses.”
Seemingly aware of the dangers of overpromising on the product, Lord’s current focus is split between customer service and fine-tuning the flexibility of uPaged to shape itself to a range of hospital systems.
“The building of the platform took a lot longer than we thought,” she admits.
“The problem was the complex back-end to connect the right nurses to the right time and making sure the right information goes through to the nurses, managers, HR departments and all of the decision-makers.”
Scalability is also a priority, as Lord expects the platform to grow at a comparable rate to awareness.
Other than slow change management systems and some bureaucracy, there hasn’t been a manager who hasn’t been interested in uPaged as a solution to their current frustrations, explained Lord.
“They all want to see a change — they just have to go through quite a big change management process,” she said.
For nurses, there is little risk to stop them from joining once hospitals in their area are on board. Registration is free, a professional profile is built and verified, and for all the financial benefits hospitals may gain, the needs of the nurses are at the heart of the startup.
“We wanted to build our model around what the key issues are for nurses.”