PEOPLE: Interview with Guy Friedman, SteadyMD, Which Just Raised $6M in Series A Funding

This interview was originally published by SoCalTech, with whom OCSN has a partnership:
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo

It’s an unusual time for the startup world, however, despite the ongoing health emergency, companies are still announcing funding. One of the companies to recently raise funding is SteadyMD (www.steadymd.com), a developer of an online telehealth service which matches up people with their own, personal doctors they can access via video, text, and phone. The company just raised $6M in a Series A funding, led by Pelion Venture Partners, and also included Next Ventures, First Trust Capital Partners, The Daube Family office, Crosscut Ventures, M25 Group, Wild Ventures, and Hyde Park Venture Partners. We spoke with CEO and co-founder Guy Friedman, who co-founded the company with COO Yarone Goren.

Tell me how you started the company?

Guy Friedman: I’m a startup guy, I had a previous startup in the educational technology space. That business was in a business called online proctoring, which is when you observe test takers and exam takers remotely for colleges and university for remote testing, so they can’t cheap on their tests. After building out that business, I went through the entire entrepreneurial journey, raised some money, and sold the company. I always thought that would be great to apply to telemedicine and healthcare. I got really excited about this area when I realized that the relationship between the doctor and patient was deteriorating because the ratio of patients to doctors was getting really high, and most technology and companies were more focused on optimizing billing, insurance, and rapid appointments, so they could make more money. That’s because, you make more money when you treat people when they are sick. There really hasn’t been a system to help people develop a long term, continuous relationship with the same doctor, that was geared towards people that weren’t elderly or who did not need high touch in person care, but still wanted a relationship with a doctor to keep them healthy. I got really inspired by that, hooked up with Yarone, a grizzled startup veteran in the Southern California startup technology. He had some similar ideas, and we workshopped it, and got super passionate about bringing back, as a core mission, a long term continuous relationship with the same doctor. One of the key insights we had, was around alignment. When you come to SteadyMD, and we match you with that doctor, we are finding a doctor who is an expert in what you care about. Whether you’re a marathon runner, and the doctor is also a marathon runner, or you have diabetes and the doctor has written ten papers on diabetic care, or you’re a vegetarian, or a mom, or whatever affects your life and lifestyle, we can find a doctor that has those lifestyle characteristics or clinical expertise. That level of matching, you cannot get anywhere else. That’s unique to our company, the idea that a great doctor for you is someone who can relate to stuff you care about, that affects your life day to day, not just a random doctor.

Did you or Yarone have a medical background?

Guy Friedman: We’re healthy guys, and care about our health. We were just interested in this. Neither of us had a healthcare background before we started this.

How is it you convinced investors, even though you’re not from the medical field, even though you are experienced startup founders, to make the investment in your company?

Guy Friedman: If you look at the macro effect of what I’m talking about, the high ratio of patients to doctors. And, frankly, the high level of dissatisfaction from the doctors themselves, where it’s a field with a high level of burnout and dissatisfaction with the system, and where the doctors feel a little bit like they’re stomped on and disrespected, you can’t ignore the macro level fact that more people want primary care options. More people want a relationship with a doctor that they cannot get in the brick and mortar world. I think we’re very tight on the research, and also when we launched we hired some great doctors to help us on the clinical side. There’s a core emotional need to stay healthy and be healthy. That’s understandable for everyone, and we think the best way to do that is to have a doctor in your everyday who you can communicate with seamlessly without having to make an appointment, deal with insurance, or where you only get to talk to a random doctor at an urgent care. We give you a doctor for life that you can text, call, and email anytime. We have a very robust chat application similar to Slack, so imagine being able to have an individualized instance of Slack with your doctor, who you have a relationship with, plus a full team that can manage things like prescriptions, referrals, and labs. The whole platform is designed to foster a deeper relationship with the physician for the long term. It’s about keeping your healthy, and there’s no insurance code for keeping you healthy. Even though we don’t have a healthcare, concierge medicine has been around for awhile, it just hasn’t been presented to the world in this way. I think we made a pretty convincing argument this was a viable and important thing to do.

Did you close the funding before the pandemic hit?

Yes, we closed before all of this. The core business was doing very well before all this hit. Based on the data from the last few years, we were able to close this round.

When this all happened, how did they react?

Guy Friedman: I think with the coronavirus, and just the economy in general, what are the stocks that are up now? Zoom and Teladoc. Teladoc is a publicly traded telemedicine company, which is indicative of this space, if everyone in America is locked down and can’t leave their house, and a lot of the doctor’s offices are closing too. They don’t want anyone coming in unless it’s essential, which is the right thing to do. Given that environment, and the heightened level of anxiety not having a doctor to talk to, we’re kind of on the other side of the coin, even if the economy is on a down swing, we are a very viable business right now because people can’t access primary care. Even if you want to call one of the urgent care apps, there are hours and hours of wait time. For our patients, they can text their doctor and the doctor texts them back on a very robust chat app, and they can have a full conversation with a doctor who knows who they are. That experience is so much better than what you can get right now if you try to call urgent care or your own doctor, because they are getting so flooded. Also, our platform is built for asynchronous communications, that is perfect for this time, when trying to triage and manage all that phone volume. If the amount of phone calls increases to a very high level, the doctor’s offices just aren’t designed to take in those phone calls. It’s not built for that. We’re a very good option for both new patients and existing patients that want a doctor they can actually connect with and who can be responsive. This model is perfect for that.

How have you managed employees, are you all remote, and how do you hire people?

Guy Friedman: I’m based in Saint Louis, Missouri, and Yarone is based in Westlake Village. I think every tech company is very quick to go remote with Slack, Zoom, Trello. It’s really just more about managing emotions, making sure people feel connected at home, when they’re used to going to the office to have that social time. I think the work itself is pretty seamless, whether in the office or remote. You just have to make sure everyone is maintaining their sanity, making sure people are staying connected and checking in. It helps to even just have a quick video call to see their face. We’re doing that more now. The business and employees are managing great, and were all able to go remote without missing a beat, which was fantastic for us.

What’s the next step for you?

Guy Friedman: I think there are two, big picture items. We’ve launch primary care, functional medicine, and pediatrics, and have an employer business as well. We’re going to continue to grow both our consumer business and employer business, which has done really well in the last few years. There’s also a new opportunity with our platform being so robust, and built for a time like this, we’re looking at options around using that platform to onboard doctors more quickly and perhaps work with more companies as well. We are going to continue to grow our consumer business, as well as a very robust platform around doctor-patient communications, on boarding advisors at scale, and managing patients on the doctor’s side. We’ve really developed some robust tools for that internally, and given the recent interest in that part of the business because everyone has to go online quickly, we’re exploring that as well.

Thanks!


 

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