Scaling Successfully: Reflections on Moving Towards Maturity in Digital Health

Earlier this week, I joined Ali Diab of Collective Health and Kelsey Mellard of Sitka at Rock Health’s seventh annual Digital Health CEO Summit. The three of us spoke about how to position digital health companies for success in the long-term, as well as all of the highs, lows, and requirements to scale a business quickly and sustainably.

Ali, Kesey, and I covered a lot of ground in our session, but a lot of the conversation can be summarized in four main points:

  1. Empathy Matters: We’ll start with what may be the most obvious insight. Empathy for those your solution serves - patient or provider - should be the North Star of product development and user experience. But when raising capital, empathy for investors is also relevant. Knowing the inner workings of a VC firm and what it means for an investor to put forward sponsorship of an investment is hugely important to successfully raising capital. Remembering that those who fund you have internal goals to meet, their own pressures, and their own career ambitions will go a long way to ensure you are successful in securing the resources to help you scale. It’s best to help imagine how you can share in each other’s success, both professionally and personally.

  2. Process is Important: When your company is five people in a room, it’s easy to keep everyone on the same page. When you’re 150, it’s a bigger challenge - and arguably, more important. Instituting processes to ensure relevant information flows freely throughout your organization should be a priority long before you need them. Weekly or biweekly all-hands meetings; quarterly business reviews; and people manager gatherings should become regular practice early in your company’s existence. Each of these functions should be owned by a member of your team -- and all of your employees should understand the need to be present for these meetings.

  3. Be Realistic About Sales Cycles: Large organizations -- employers, payers, and health systems -- have notoriously long cycles for deciding on, and implementing, digital health solutions. Signing Omada’s first customer took over a year moving. Moving beyond the earliest adopters to broad commercialization took even longer. Your financial blueprint, hiring plan, and revenue projections should recognize this reality. It also increases the urgency of being in sync with your partners. Longer sales cycles lead to longer feedback loops, so being able to iterate your product based on customer input should be a seamless, and rapid, link in your development chain.

  4. There are no Shortcuts in Healthcare: It’s been said countless times before, but healthcare isn’t ripe for disruption in the same way as other industries. You need to figure out where your company, and your solution, fit into the existing infrastructure. For Omada, that meant unlocking the operational innovation of contracting as a provider instead of a vendor. This (along with working to secure a CPT code from the AMA) enables us to bill through claims, accessing the medical spend of employers and health plans. And it makes it possible for our reimbursements to be tied directly to the outcomes we generate. Sometimes, the least visible innovation can be the most important.

It was a pleasure to talk through these issues, and more, with Ali and Kelsey. But the most inspiring part of these events is always getting to meet the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders who will join the growing revolution in healthcare.