Tell us about yourself?
As with anyone that goes into healthcare, from a young age I really wanted to help people and I found the science of medicine, and particularly nutrition, fascinating. I started out my career as a Registered Dietitian and worked my way up through a fairly typical path in the ambulatory and health system setting, but something was missing for me.
I’ve always loved building new things and and was getting excited about all of the ways that digital health solutions can leverage technology to provision care for a broader audience, both improving access and decreasing cost.
I ended up meeting my two co-founders, Ram Sesha and Karthik Koduru, MD, through Linked-in and the three of us just clicked. We had a lot of the same thoughts about the transformative power of digital health platforms in healthcare and saw a significant need in oncology so decided to focus our efforts there.
OncoPower was born. Meanwhile, I went back to school for my MBA while working full time for a health system and running my company in any spare hour of the day. We spent a lot of the first couple of years of the company really forming our ideas and getting a lot of end user feedback.
It definitely meant a slower beginning to the company with plenty of pivots as we saw what worked and didn’t work, but I’m really proud of that chapter because it showed we have the fortitude and discipline to build something meaningful and in the end I think our product and the OncoPower community is better off for it.
We’ve been able to slowly grow our team and drive organic growth and traction and was in the position to come on board full time this year. Taking the leap has been both thrilling and scary and seeing OncoPower lean on the accelerator has been the best part.
As for me personally, I live in CT with my engineer husband, one year old son, and our mini Aussie. I love cooking, dining out, hiking, just being outdoors, and traveling.
We were a pandemic wedding (ended up getting married in our backyard with 55 guests!) so though I find myself in the throws of toddler-hood right now, I can’t wait to actually take that honeymoon to Italy!
What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?
The power of patience, the importance of listening, and the potency of absolutely relentless optimism.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I’m a big believer that our mistakes happen for a reason and lead to important learnings, so while I’d love to tell myself hey you’ll save time by doing x sooner or not trying y, I think I’d just say trust your instincts.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
I think that because I spent so many years doing the working grind while being an entrepreneur, I figured out early on how to squeeze every last drop out of the lemon.
If anything, those were the years that I just put my head down and did it. I am very diligent with my sleep and have always had a fairly good natural ability to optimize tasks for time and to take a large amount of information and distill what is most actionable from it so those have all worked to my advantage.
Every minute of my day from about 5am to 10pm was accounted for and all I knew was to focus and get it done. At this point it all feels much easier to juggle and my family is super supportive.
They understand when a meeting on a Sunday night crops up or I have to all of a sudden dive into a work project. And on the flip side, we have a respectful, flexible, and transparent culture with our OncoPower team.
I’ve never liked the mentality of ‘I need you to stop your life to answer this’ and so place emphasis on scoping out upcoming projects so I think that planning and communication is a large part of why it works so well.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
We saw several healthcare shifts happening at once (specialist shortages, health system consolidation, slow telehealth adoption, EMRs creating more work not less) and decided to focus on building smart digital health tools for one specialty and do it well.
We decided on oncology because we saw that physicians were getting burned out, community oncologists were getting stretched, and there was this incredible proliferation of drug and treatment options that it was all hard to stay on top of.
We actually started building the product from the physician perspective to simplify workflows and reduce administrative burden while helping disseminate quality information, research, real world data, etc.
As we were doing this, we also started having conversations with more and more patients about what they needed and started building for them as well. The end-user has really informed the product along the way and I think making sure we have that feedback loop in place has been very influential and led us to the product we have today.
Karthik is an oncologist, I’m a dietitian, and Ram has a pharma/IP background, so I think those converging skill sets naturally led us to place emphasis on the quality of information on OncoPower, look at patient engagement and care navigation from several different viewpoints, and make sure that we were building tools that helped connect the dots for the patients while not adding work for the providers.
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
Engagement and trustworthiness! I am proud to say that our top feedback from the patients is that they feel they found a community that truly supports, that they trust, and provides quality insight into their treatment journey.
Our tools are extremely sticky and so we see really nice engagement with our users. We have placed an emphasis on getting a beta product out quickly and getting feedback and then really refining the UX so it feels seamless.
There’s not a lot of tolerance for a tech product that’s less than perfect these days so that’s the risk to our strategy but as a start-up, we simply don’t have the luxury of time or financial resources to do it any other way.
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?
We have found a lot of success with leaning into a B2C2B approach. The B2B sales cycle in healthcare is a beast. It’s long, there are a ton of decision makers, and the bigger players want tons of outcomes data, something that takes time and people to generate so it becomes a catch-22.
But consumerism is entering healthcare and that’s working to our advantage. Patients are finding out about us, enjoying their experience, and sharing it with their care team.
So for now we’re looking at B2C user acquisition and a few strategic partnerships, with the plan to lean into the B2B sales cycle more in the coming quarters.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your business, and how did you overcome it?
I think the biggest strategic challenge in building any company is identifying the right team members and partners, making sure that each person is in the right role for themselves and for the broader chemistry of the team.
It can be tricky and sometimes you have to make hard decisions, but is critical to the vitality of the company. And then the biggest tactical challenge of course has come from balancing fundraising and operations.
We have had a cautious approach to cap table management and take the responsibility of using investor dollars very seriously, which is good for the long term health of the company but also has meant some very tight months as we invest in product development/growth. It’s been a constant balancing act but thankfully we’re now well positioned for a larger round.
What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in Texas over other states in the US?
Houston has a very vibrant healthcare and research community which has served us well. On top of that, there is a lot of innovation and entrepreneurship going on in Texas which is wind in the sails. We certainly keep an eye on the tech and startup scenes in Austin/Houston to help us stay sharp.
Are there any disadvantages of operating our business in Texas?
No, not really. We have a distributed, remote team so Texas is a nice, centralized place to be able to call home base.
Texas has a pretty diverse population. How have you found the quickly changing demographics have impacted your business? Have you got new opportunities? Managed to expand your business into new areas?
We have users on OncoPower from all over the world and with all different backgrounds so while those types of population shifts may not impact our end product, we do obviously home in on those trends so we can adjust our marketing and outreach accordingly.
It is often reported that, in Texas, politics and business are intertwined. Have you noticed this? Has it impacted your business?
We’ve seen how political capital and relationships can help drive business introductions and whatnot. They won’t get you over the finish line, the company has to do that on their own, but knowing the right people can open doors.
But in terms of politics impacting OncoPower, thankfully we focus on building a respectful and supportive care community and haven’t had to moderate for those types of influences.
With rising prices across Texas (and the US as a whole) have you been impacted? Do you have a plan for dealing with inflation going forward?
With the current inflation, we’ve definitely taken the time to ensure that every last dollar we’re spending has impact and that our budget targets are being adjusted to reflect the real world.
That said, because we build a digital product, we don’t have to deal with things like fluctuating gas prices, supply chain issues, and maintaining a physical inventory which are all much more impacted by the current scenario.
What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years with your business?
I want to grow OncoPower into a powerful ecosystem: a community of people supporting one another through cancer, a place where relevant players and advocacy groups can more directly reach patients, and whose core mission is saving lives by connecting people with important genetic testing/clinical trials/second opinions, etc. earlier than they would have experienced just floating through the traditional care setting.
I want to be able to reproduce this blueprint in other high-engagement specialties as well for horizontal growth. We already have core product coding and algorithms for repeating this in cardiology and are doing some early work on nephrology and rare diseases.
We recognize the value for enterprise partners in being able to have a similar product for other specialties.