How I started an online nursing platform to help hospitals save money and empower nurses

upaged_Brand Profile Header Image
Zara Lord uPaged founder image
Zara Lord
Founded: December 2018
No of employees: 6
Location: Australia

uPaged is the easy way for skilled nurses across Australia to find on-demand work. uPaged facilitates skill matching to patient needs, at a fraction of the cost to hospitals, meaning uPaged nurses will be the first booked and last cancelled. It was built by a nurse for nurses, after its founder Zara Lord noticed a gap in the market for nurses to showcase their skills and take control of their career.

After extensive research, plenty of good advice from friends and meeting nurses for coffee to understand their needs, uPaged is now up and running, and hopes to change the industry and give nurses more autonomy. We chat to Zara to find out more, including her plans for the company’s future.

Who are you and what brand did you start?

I’m the founder of uPaged, and I’m an 8th year registered nurse. 

My business is called uPaged and my customers are registered nurses seeking casual nursing shifts, and the hospitals that need an on-demand, contingency workforce. 

uPaged is an online workforce platform that profiles registered nurses (RNs) and provides a direct connection between RNs and on-demand shifts in hospitals. A two-way marketplace, uPaged cuts out the traditional nursing agency middleman, putting control and choice back in the hands of nurses and hospital managers, allowing both parties to provide the best possible care to patients.

uPaged has a two-way rating system which means the best nurses get placed in (or can choose) the best jobs first. (Think Uber meets TripAdvisor in a mash-up of the traditional nursing agency model).

Right now, we’re serving Sydney hospitals, and are aiming to rollout nationwide over the next 6 months.

12 months ago, I was working full-time in a 58-bed ICU at a large Sydney hospital. While I now have a team of 10 working for me at uPaged, I only left my permanent nursing role a couple of weeks ago to focus on uPaged full-time.

Screenshot of Website screenshots - Google Drive (1) (1)

How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for uPaged?

I have always worked nursing agency shifts. I first started as an AIN while I was an undergraduate. Even when I was full-time and in charge of the ward, I picked up the odd agency shift when work had no overtime. Over the years, I’ve worked with several agencies.

With experience on both sides of the fence - as the agency nurse and the nurse in charge - both roles highlighted major friction points between agency nurse, agency, permanent hospital staff, hospital booking manager and patient. 

That disconnect between my agency and hospital experience had always concerned me, and after I completed my Graduate Certificate in Critical Care Nursing, I decided to see if I could fix this and make the agency nursing experience better for nurses, hospital and patient. 

I knew there had to be a better way, I was sure that technology could help, and I also knew I had to ask nurses what they really felt.

9 months later, and armed with the results of research of over 500 agency nurses, I realised I’d opened a Pandora’s box of issues. 

For nurses, it was clear that agency nurses were considered  anonymous ‘ring-ins’ by hospital staff and patients. This is because nurses skills are not known to those that place them in wards to care for patients, which means they can’t be utilised effectively to facilitate safe patient care. 

This can make it really challenging for nurses to practice at their usual high standard, leaving them dissatisfied and sometimes concerned they might risk a patient’s life and their registration. When hospitals are short staffed, they rely on these nurses.

The combination of understaffing and underperforming nurses has been proven to negatively affect patient outcomes, as well as staff morale, burnout and retention.

Nurses want a flexible work option that values them and where they are celebrated for their ability,  hospitals want a contingent workforce that doesn’t break budgets, and everyone wants safer patient care and good outcomes for patients.

As for Nursing agencies, they have a financial incentive to place anyone in a shift - they skimp on vetting and are known to place poorly qualified nurses in roles and to move them around between hospitals chasing higher revenue. 

In exchange for this low quality service hospitals are charged extraordinary fees upwards of a 40% commission (but as high as 104% commission) forcing them to restrict their use of agency staff. 

Nursing agencies have failed to deliver value… and so I created uPaged.

Take us through the early stages of uPaged's brand journey

Conceptualising uPaged meant a very long period of research before I spent any money. 

I ran an agency nursing survey for which I had over 500 responses to (thanks to a couple of nursing Facebook pages). 

This gave some incredible data confirming what I suspected of nurses opinions of agency nursing, and the need for change.

I talked to industry professionals, employment lawyers, friends with IT backgrounds, and other startup founders. This pointed me in the right direction to know what was possible, affordable, legal and realistic.

Building my own financial model has been one of the most powerful things I’ve done. It helps me with decision making, to know where the financial risk lies and what milestones I need to be targeting.

When I was comfortable with what uPaged was, I had a working prototype built that displayed the functionality required for a hospital to book a nurse for a shift. I presented the prototype and slide deck to two hospital CEOs separately, both of whom gave me their support, in writing, to pilot uPaged.

From that point, I was ready to start developing, and with several quotes from recommended developers, I chose a development company here in Sydney, and we began scoping. 

The developers actually wrote out their own set of user stories from our initial meeting, which showed me their understanding of the concept and meant the stories were in terms they resonated with. We used an agile method of development, scoping out the finer details as we went. This was really effective as we were able to visualise the functionality and learnt the end to end process for nurses and hospital managers.

My main hurdle through this process was my own learning and development, staying on track for the stage in the process and not getting too ahead of myself. Scope creep was a big factor as development took 9 months when initial estimates were 3-5 months for the MVP. This just meant I had to manage pilot hospital’s expectations around delivery and ensure the pre-registered nurses were still available. 

My startup costs have not been anything out of the norm with any tech startup. These include but aren’t limited to development, accounting, legal, marketing and research. I was successful in receiving a NSW government grant to assist uPaged in reaching proof-of-concept. 

The support I have received from friends and family has been invaluable - without them I would not have been able to successfully launched uPaged.

Upaged app

Describe the process of launching uPaged?

The process of launching uPaged started with writing a business plan, collating research in terms of industry requirements, conducting competitor analysis, financial analysis, legal requirements and customer research. 

From there I built a financial model, scoped out uPaged, formed a company, built a working prototype, obtained support from 2 business customers (hospitals), obtained several development quotes and commenced development. 

Throughout this process I have worked on my social media profiles with Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google My Business (though social media is not my strong suit). 

Development has been surprisingly smooth other than taking a lot longer than forecast, however, I am told this is normal and I pretty much expected it to happen. 

As a sole founder, launching uPaged has been a juggling game, of my time, personal money, connections and strategy advised by friends. 

To date uPaged has been self-funded, with some assistance from the  NSW Government grant. Now that we are past our proof-of-concept and are generating revenue, we are looking to raise capital to speed up our market adoption and continue to be ahead of the game in adding new features. 

I have friends in the startup world who have shown me incredible support and guidance. My business plan that collected the findings of my research ended up being 65 pages long and I have not looked at it in over a year now, but it helped me to consider all of the aspects of founding a business. I did a lot of reading online about building a financial model, and eventually came across a fantastic blog (sadly not available anymore) which walked me through building a financial model. 

The agency nursing survey I ran in my customer research has been one of my biggest drivers. Despite these nurses earning a higher rate of pay, and having total freedom over when and where they work, I was astounded to learn of the lack of respect, poor allocation and dislike of the current process of agency nursing. This process costs the health system over a billion dollars every year, and is rising.

Zara first uPaged shift (1)

Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?

Since launch we have been staying as close to our nurses and hospital managers as possible (without being creepy!), so we can understand everything about what they want and need, and love and hate about the platform. The fruits of this learning has led to version 2 for the nurse experience… which just launched last week - we’re so excited about this because the user experience is just amazing.

We have a huge pipeline of new features that we believe will continue to wow our nurses… there are literally not enough hours in the day to make it all happen straight away, but we’ll get there!

At the same time, because the platform has a two-way rating system for hospitals and nurses, we are analysing the feedback we receive to find the nuggets of gold that will help re-shape the platform. This will ultimately mean prioritising which of these new features will bring the most value to our customers, and more investment in dev time.  

uPaged is about community, transparency and empowerment - something that isn’t provided with the current model with nursing agencies. 

On top of the fact that what we are first to market in this space, we’re solving a myriad of major problems for hospitals, nurses and patients, in what is a highly regulated space. 

uPaged can save hospitals up to 70% on contingency workforce commissions – in some cases this means millions of dollars each year. 

The very fact that we are giving nurses what they want, and saving hospitals millions, means that attraction and retention (so far) has been steadily increasing.

How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?

We have recently concluded pilots at 2 Sydney hospitals and commenced billing, having received glowing reviews from the hospitals and the nurses using the platform. 

Managers love the ease of booking, HR love the ease of onboarding and the Executive obviously love the cost savings. 

We are now generating revenue for the first time, which is super validating - because hospitals are willing to pay for our service (and for a $290 cost saving per shift, why wouldn’t they?).

We have 2 other hospitals who are in pilot periods, and a pipeline of interested hospitals that we will onboard as our numbers of nurses grow to ensure we meet demand with supply.

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that if hospitals around Australia adopt uPaged, we can save Australian healthcare billions of dollars over the next decade, and we can completely reshape the way nurses secure on-demand, casual shifts when it works for them and their lifestyles. Best of all, patients win too.

upaged app on computer

What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?

I have learnt the importance of having a voice, giving voice to those nurses who haven’t felt confident about speaking up, and being an advocate for change. Social media platforms and traditional PR have helped, as has word of mouth through our supporters and early adopters.

I’ve connected with great people who have shown their support in all sorts of ways. I’ve also learnt that I cannot physically or mentally “do it all”. 

In addition to time constraints, I’ve learnt that it is difficult to switch between roles of product, hospital sales, nurse onboarding, and then to marketing. These roles use different languages, have varying levels of detail and can be really hard to “keep it simple” when I’m involved with something to the depth that I’m involved in with the uPaged product. 

I hear this is a challenge with many startups as you don’t have the financial means to bring in other talent, and therefore have to wear many hats.

upaged on mobile view

What marketing tools do you use to run uPaged?

Canva is awesome and Melanie Perkins is my hero. It also works really well with Social Pilot (which we’re currently trialling) to schedule posts across all of our socials.

Fiverr was good to have tasks done when you find the right person on the platform, but most importantly it is affordable.

I subscribe to Hubspot and it’s like they’re reading my mind… the articles are always so on point to what I’m working on. 

Zendesk – 1 year of free credit for startups across their professional suite has been great to help streamline our customer service and it acts as our customer helpdesk and FAQ repository.

Figma – the design tool my UI/UX designer uses, but I’m obsessed with being able to tinker around with the designs and create simple prototypes and marketing material myself.

PlaceIt – makes epic images with my app screenshots.

Squarespace – We moved the website to a Squarespace CMS back in April and it has been great to be able to work on without pulling my developers off important projects.

TinyPNG – to make images smaller for use on the website.

Slack for communicating with my team.

Ontraport (CRM) is our secret weapon for automation and does the heavy lifting across marketing, web and customer contact. 

Jira – I’ve only just started using this to project manage our tech development, and it's been great so far and only $10/month.

Calendly - for self-service scheduling of nurse interviews into our customer experience calendar. We then use Zapier to integrate this with our CRM to automate follow up sequences from SMS to emails to confirm appointments.

We switched our police check provider from a large multinational company who had a clunky platform, to an Australian company called InterCheck, and they’ve been incredible. The platform is so easy to use, we can personalise all communication and the checks cost less than the previous provider.

Toggl – for time management so I can be flexible with my team’s hours without it stressing me out.

Trello – for our to do lists and project boards.

Stripe – is our payment processor and it’s so easy to use. 

G Suite – for everything! I am blown away with the number of nurses still rocking a Hotmail account and this creates a poor experience for these nurses when they sign up and don’t receive the confirmation email in their inbox… I hope more nurses will discover the joys of G Suite and document storing and sharing capability.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?

The Lean Startup was the first book I read along this journey, and it was fantastic. In fact I could probably ready it again and get even more out of it. 

How I built this (podcast) has some really cool startup stories, and I especially like that they showcase the struggle and how people overcame it.

Tim Ferris is great for fear setting and changing my own mind set for taking risks.

Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?

My parents have definitely been the most influential people for my journey with uPaged. My father is a great businessman, a very analytical, fair, honest and intelligent man who has run incredible businesses and partnerships throughout his life. I was brought up in this environment and was included in conversations about business and providing value from a young age.

My parents might not have a tech background but their business skills, ability to manage people, set up processes and create value in business has been phenomenal. Added to this, I have their unwavering support. As a sounding board for uPaged’s progress, their input has been invaluable. 

I have met several other successful startup founders along the way. In particular, Matthew Keeley from Grow Super has been an ongoing support for uPaged. He welcomed me into his office with a team of what has grown from 10 to 45 staff, and surrounded me with a heap of really talented and dynamic people. When I get stuck with something, Keeley will say, “why don’t you take X for a coffee or a walk around the park -  they’ll be able to help.”

Any advice you’d like to share for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Stay present with what is important for your particular stage in the business to meet necessary milestones, don’t get ahead of yourself.  

Find time away from the business to do things you enjoy, it has to be sustainable.

Keep enjoying what you do, otherwise you won’t stick with it when it gets tough.

Hold on to your purpose for why you started out, this will motivate you during tough times and keep you on track in your decision making.

Hold on to your purpose for why you started out, this will motivate you during tough times and keep you on track in your decision making.Click To Tweet

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?

We’re currently fully staffed, and looking to close an investment round shortly.

Where can we go to learn more about your current offers/promotions/programs?

To keep up to date with what’s happening with uPaged in terms of milestones, promotions and new opportunities, follow our socials:

Facbook - uPaged

Instagram - @u.paged

Twitter - @uPaged



Zara Lord:

If you are a nurse, register on uPaged and experience it yourself! 

Want to become a subscriber?

Learn how businesses are earning up to $2m per month