What are the big challenges that you’re facing? There’s obviously a lot of red tape in an industry like healthcare, a lot of roadblocks, a lot of silos. I mean, is this something that you guys have to work around or is the technology able to break through?
Well, I think, one of the things that gets us out of the gate was to put all the drugs on one platform and create consistent workflows [regardless of the drug or disease], it’s the same workflow every time for the providers. And there was a lot of early conversations when we started rolling this out that pharma companies came to us and said, “How much do I have to pay to make this exclusive to my drugs?” And I think the biggest challenge is not succumbing early to revenue that’s very tantalizing and is a potential lifeblood of a startup. You have to hold out and build the right thing that the market actually needs if you want to build a company that’s going to be disruptive at scale as opposed to something that’s going to solve a quick little niche and get taken out early by a user customer.
What about the challenges of being CEO and building a business?
One of my biggest challenges [is] being very young. I founded ZappRx when I was 26, turning 27. I did not have my MD or PhD or MBA. So, I had no fancy letters to go by my signature. MPH is another one. I sometimes joke that healthcare suffers from OMDS, “Old Male Doctor Syndrome,” and I wasn’t going to be able to change any of that. And I wasn’t going to wait to start ZappRx once I was able to get some sort of fancy [degree] under my belt. So I’ve had to take something that’s my Achilles heel and turn it into my greatest asset, which is just recognizing that this is a challenge. This is the reality of the market.
So I’ve invited doctors with me to come to the meetings or setup the meetings. And so, you know, a doctor would say, “This is Zoe. She’s the founder of ZappRx. She’s building this great product. I believe in her. I believe in the company. You should take a meeting with her.” And that would just serve to get me to the door, and then of course, I had to walk through the door. But it immediately made me credible in the eyes of the customer, the user, or the investor. Anyone who was on the other side really saw that I was basically a trusted source.
What advice do you have for other young CEOs from your experience with ZappRx?
Zoe: I would say just be brutally honest. Don’t try to sugarcoat it and say, “Oh, you know, it’s hard because…” insert your weakness. And, “It’s unfair because…” insert whatever [challenge you face]. I think just be realistic and don’t get emotional about it. Figure out how to turn your Achilles heel into your greatest asset.
I think back to doing our Series A financing, and Jeremy Levin who’s a former CEO of Teva Pharmaceutical, he did the entire road show campaign with me for the Series A. He met with all the investors, helped me setup the meetings, leveraged his network, and then after the Series A joined our board. And he had lived this problem with specialty drugs at Teva. They’ve got a couple of products and knew how challenging it was to get drugs to patients. It’s almost like you win the clinical trial battle, and then the battle starts again with trying to get the drugs to the patients. And it’s really frustrating. And there has to be a better way.
You know, today, it’s a $300 billion market that floats on the back of fax machines. But I was able to get somebody who had lived the problem, who came with me, and boosted my credibility in a short period of time. And it completely took away from what had been my biggest con, which was my age and my experience.