This isn't Brian Loew's first run at Internet success.
During the thick of the dot-com mania 20 years ago, Loew and some friends built an online publishing company called Worldweb.net. It had 150 employees and $15 million in revenue but, like many start-ups from the era, it never posted a profit.
Worldweb.net created website software in the Internet's early days for Elle, Car and Driver, the ill-fated George magazine and other publications.
"I was going to be rich beyond my wildest dreams," Loew said, recounting what his bankers had told him at the time.
Ten days away from the company's initial public offering, the go-go, dot-com age imploded and Loew's path to riches vaporized. The company, which bankers predicted could eventually be worth $1 billion, was sold off for a small fraction of that.
"Investors got their money back, but nobody got rich," Loew said.
The 46-year-old entrepreneur appears to be on to something with a better future this time around. His nine-year-old medical-website business, known as Inspire, has 1.1 million members, 33 employees and nearly $10 million in revenue, and it will turn its first profit this year.
Inspire essentially is a giant, online discussion community where people can use real or assumed names to share experiences, information and advice about their various medical conditions.
"Join many others who understand what you're going through and are making important decisions about their health," says the greeting on Inspire's website.
Loew and his company are attached to the surge of patient assertiveness, with more people questioning their health care and taking more of the responsibility out of the hands of professionals.
"Patient centricity really matters," said Loew, who owns a big chunk of the company, along with investors and employees.
Membership is free and increasing by 1,000 per day. Seventy-eight percent of members are women.
"Women are the chief medical officers of the home," Loew said. "Many of our female members represent a member of the family — husbands, fathers, fathers-in-law, siblings, children. So sometimes a woman would join and say, 'I'm a parent of a 'preemie,' a child of someone with a medical condition, a sister of someone else.' "
The company has a team of community moderators to make sure members get along on chats.
Revenue comes from advertising and from companies looking for hard-to-find patients to participate in clinical drug trials or market research.
Many of the research contracts come from pharmaceutical giants to carry out drug trials or marketing studies on everything from psoriasis (one of the most common ailments among members) to cancer. The contracts can pay anywhere from $50,000 to $750,000, Loew said. It usually amounts to about $1,000 per patient for market research and up to $10,000 for clinical trials.
Inspire's clients include the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the world, as well as most of the top 25.
"It matters to these companies what patients think and want and how they make decisions," Loew said.