Published on January 7th 2021
I’m Anthony Whitington and along with my younger brother Ian, we founded Fixing Dad; initially as a production company but now a global health engagement business that’s dedicated to empowering people to take control of their health.
Ian and I always made films right through our childhood and when we left university we ran a small production company together. I previously spent 12 years in the City as a commercial financial advisor - a good steady job as my wife and I added to our family - but I would have always preferred to make films if I could have found a way to make a living out of it.
Then in 2016, life hit us with a curve-ball. Our dad, Geoff, was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, facing amputation of his leg and we risked losing him. Ian and I committed to working together to help our dad manage his condition. To do this, we both gave up our jobs in order to free up the time to do this. My wife and I had four young kids at this point so this was a real risk in many ways.
We began taking dad on some short bike rides and we started watching what he was eating. And this is when we started filming his journey.
In the first four weeks, Dad lost a stone in weight and his podiatrist was astonished to find signs of blood flow returning to his foot. As we shared our project on social media we received many messages of support and noticed a wave of diabetes sufferers who were hugely inspired by just this initial stage of his journey.
That’s when we realised the initial potential. Why not make a feature film to inspire and help other people? We set up a crowdfunder on Kickstarter to make the film with a £26,000 target, most of which we were able to raise from a small charity called the Paula Carr Diabetes Trust in Kent. We used the money to continue our journey and make a 3-minute short film showing Dad’s progress called “Fixing Dad” and we sent it to every media outlet we could think of.
That little film generated a lot of exposure, with four appearances on “The One Show”, three trips to “Good Morning Britain” and “BBC Breakfast”, and coverage across the UK press. This led to more funding, the completion of dad’s journey to full remission and reversal of his condition and to the broadcast of our story by the BBC in a documentary special called “Fixing Dad” in 2016.
Somehow, and certainly not in a way I envisaged it happening, that family mission reignited a career in film production and signalled the start of a new journey.
What inspired you to launch your business?
Following the success of Fixing Dad, we attracted thousands of Facebook followers and a lot of people wanting to emulate what we had done for our dad. People were messaging us in their hundreds asking for our help, and telling us how they had been inspired to embark on their own health journeys. They were reaching out to us for advice but we were conscious that we were not medically trained. Having said that, we felt instinctively that we could inspire many more people and ‘activate’ more patients with health conditions by sharing personal stories and journeys with the world.
Our first project, or piece of business, came via London Marathon Events and Prudential to launch a Fixing Challenge, where 4 people with chronic health conditions would be given the opportunity to train and cycle the 100-mile RideLondon in just 6 months’ time, just as our dad had done. We received more than 2,000 applications and selected four to be the stars of our follow-up BBC documentary special, “The Fixing Challenge”. They, just like our dad, inspired many others, and Ian and I knew that translating this into a business that could continue to inspire, engage and inform people about how to take control of their health would be our next challenge.
What’s the single most important decision that you made, that contributed to your business?
Whilst Fixing Dad had a successful format and millions of people had now been inspired by our content, we struggled to translate this to a commercial business. Ian and I had been driven by a desire to save our dad and, in the face of the global tsunami of chronic ill-health, to help others to realise they could do the same. But it was not viable and we risked losing everything.
Over the next 15 months, we met many people and got our fingers burnt a few times but we did not give up.
In September 2017 I sent a LinkedIn message to a successful agency entrepreneur and she invited me to lunch where we got the chance to talk to her about our business and its challenges. That same evening she introduced us to Rohin Malhotra, an experienced executive who had helped build and then sell a number of organisations and who she felt might be able to help us.
We spoke with Rohin the next day and had an immediate connection. He understood the business and its potential and agreed to join us and guide us. He agreed to invest in the business and mentor me, helping me to be a better CEO and drive the business to success. Rohin’s joining heralded the birth of the organisation as we know it today. We’ve been able to grow, considerably expand the range of conditions that we help people to engage with, expand our range of organisations we work with and services to all types of content as well as events and technology, expand into new territories and to do all this whilst remaining profitable throughout.
What’s the most common problem your customers approach you with?
In a word, Engagement.
Many of our clients struggle to engage with patient health journeys; to connect with what it really is to embark on a journey to better health. Consumers aren’t buying a particular medication because of its advertising or brand packaging - they are buying into the results and into the promise of a healthier, better quality of life. And they want to see that it works for people like them.
Healthcare marketing tends to be clinically-led and so heavily focuses on endpoints and outcomes - before and after pictures - which are either unrealistic, unrelatable or unobtainable. Traditional health communications often centre around excessive fear or unrealistic hope. The risk of heart attack… the progressiveness of a chronic disease… reduced longevity or death, versus the ultimate ‘success stories’, the beach-ready’ bodies or 20 stone ‘turnarounds’ depicted in mainstream media. And that’s simply not the reality for most people. What many of these lack, or take for granted, is the need to focus on helping people to engage with their health.
Our customers approach us to create connections with patients through engaging content, events and conferences, moderated virtual events or other technology as part of an authentic journey to reflect real patient struggles and successes. Most of our clients have the same problem – they can’t reach customers or patients in the middle of the night to hear what it is they are worried about, why they have secretly shelved their medications, why they have reverted to a poor diet or stopped exercising. This is what we can do.
Fixing Us offers a window into all of this, showing the actual journey between endpoints and outcomes. This is where health engagement lives. It has the power to inspire others to take action, whether that action is personal, medical, corporate or government policy.
How do you set yourself apart from other businesses in your industry?
Our origins are two sons fixing their Dad’s health and how this has resonated with people around the world. As a result, our company culture is grounded in the authenticity and reality of health-engagement.
We are much closer to the real and authentic trials and tribulations of a person’s life and those who care for them. We consider ourselves a positive example of a patient journey that involves a wider support network, and as such a means to positive engagement for our clients. We have also found a way to provide a vessel for collaboration between groups that would otherwise struggle to engage effectively including enterprises, brands, charities, the media, government, patient groups as well as governmental bodies and policymakers.
Above all this, it is our commitment towards engagement that is agnostic and authentic, enabling us to work with and empower all kinds of organisations whose goals may be aligned with specific outcomes, products, services or regimes.
What are your top tips for entrepreneurs wanting to get their business out there?
First and foremost, be open and honest about your weaknesses as well as your strengths. When we started out, I thought to get the big clients we needed to pretend we were bigger and more accomplished than we were. But as it turns out, it’s the opposite. Be clear about what your strengths are but also put your weaknesses on the table!
If cashflow is a challenge, share this with your client and be open about exactly what your payment terms will need to be for their benefit as well as yours. Have faith in the service you provide and its value to your client. Playing the bigshot does them a disservice too; all businesses have to grow and that’s something, to be honest with clients about. As your business develops and matures, this ceases to be an issue, but be honest because clients appreciate it – in my experience, this always strengthens the relationship and the authenticity is likely to translate into integrity.
Secondly, if you have something you really believe in, tell as many (relevant) people as you can. Nearly all our blue-chip clients have come directly from simple conversations started on LinkedIn. Be polite, be persistent, don’t take rejection or failure to engage personally and be relevant. If you have a product or service that you believe can really benefit someone, learn about them, read one of their articles, tell them exactly why you think you should talk! Keep messages short (one or two very short paragraphs at most), personal (a cut and paste can be spotted a mile off) and relevant (refer to something current, an article the prospect has written or shared, a mutually relevant event or new service).
Thirdly, building a business can be lonely and so take steps to make sure you are not isolated and try hard to be kind to yourself. Building a business can be rewarding and character-building exercise but this often becomes apparent in retrospect so prepare to have to put in a lot of effort first before most forms of “pay-off” become apparent.
What plans do you have for Fixing Dad over the next two years?
The global Patient-Engagement Solutions market is experiencing strong growth and there is a massive unmet need in the world for an organisation like ours. We know our business has only just scratched the surface of this, with Fixing US now embarking on a US launch, having established proof of concept with key clients for each of our streams. We’re not just films and content any more, we now have a trusted brand, valuable IP, formats, events, publishing, extensive content capabilities and peer-to-peer tech services.
Today, we are a profitable UK start-up with a huge addressable global market. Over the next few years, our focus will increasingly be towards international expansion, particularly in countries like the US, China, India and Brazil, and so we have already started establishing new brands, local partners and sales capabilities abroad.
Any new product launches we should know about?
During the pandemic, we know that mental health issues related to isolation and loneliness increased significantly and that our virtual forums offered many the social engagement and peer support they really needed.
Our Fixing Us Virtual Wellness and Patient-Engagement Forums are free peer-to-peer forums that enable patients and consumers to connect in a safe, moderated environment. This service was created as a free platform to help inspire people to engage with their health or the health of someone they care about and our goal is to enable inspiration without cost so that people can engage with their health and tackle challenges that affect us and our communities.
These forums launched in the UK in 2020 and we are set to roll-out in the US, Canada and Brazil in the first half 2021.
How did you conquer those moments of doubt that so often affect entrepreneurs or stop many with great ideas – what pushes you through?
I think about the faces of those inspired patients and doctors and I remember that we built this thing from a simple idea to ‘fix’ dad’s health. It worked for Dad, it’s worked for hundreds of patients since, but we want to help millions, globally, and this keeps me going!
We have a saying that ‘Inspiration is contagious!’ and this includes the people working at Fixing Dad today. We never stop striving for stronger inspiration and engagement, and our organisation really tries hard to maintain the same authentic kindness internally that we have been committed to deliver externally.
What social media channel would you say has worked the best for your business and why?
Facebook and LinkedIn.
I’ve talked about LinkedIn – I think it’s fantastic when used well. But Facebook has been where we’ve shared all our journeys from Day 1. When we began Fixing Dad we made everything as public as possible, we shared Dad’s journey, his small successes and failures, and people were encouraging; some said they were inspired in the first month by Dad’s two-mile bike rides!
People come to us via Facebook all the time because they’re feeling inspired and engaged after watching our content or taking part in a forum. Often, they’re either feeling inspired or want to inspire others. We always stress to people that this is your journey. A health journey can go any way you choose to take it, and by sharing that journey you gather support from people close and not so close to you. Facebook fits that mentality well, and we are honoured that people are so moved to action by the work that we do!