This article is part of High Alpha’s CEO Spotlight series. We regularly sit down with the High Alpha venture studio‘s portfolio CEOs and leaders to dig into their business, team, and story. You’ll get an inside look at the companies in our portfolio and their incredible leaders and teams.
Last year, we invested in Cured’s $2.5M Series Seed funding alongside an incredible group of investors, including Waterline Ventures and Matchstick Ventures. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Cured CEO Andrew Sawyer to talk more about the company, his background, and the lessons he’s learned while building a high-growth healthcare technology company.
In a sentence, tell us what Cured does.
Cured creates solutions that enable leading healthcare organizations to better manage patient and key partner relationships within their networks, perform outreach directly to patients via the channels of their preference, and improve patient access experience and efficacy.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got into the tech or startup world?
I graduated from DePauw University in 2008 in the midst of the financial crisis. Fresh off of two summers of commodities trading and commercial banking internships, I had planned to go into management consulting or finance in Chicago. However, fairly early into my senior year, I got an email from a recruiter at Epic Systems, a healthcare technology company in a small suburb of Madison, WI. I was intrigued, and the prospect of a paid trip to have a couple beers in one of the nation’s finest college towns for an evening before my interview seemed like an opportunity I could not pass up… no matter the outcome. After spending a day at Epic’s massive Googleplex-like campus interviewing and meeting with employees, I knew it was the right place to start my career.
I spent a little over three years there running implementations at large West Coast health systems — first for Epic’s revenue cycle suite of products, then as an Enterprise Implementation Director. Further, I was involved in the beta launch of their home health and hospice products, which represented the company’s first attempt to enter the post-acute healthcare market.
Epic went on to dominate the electronic medical record market in the subsequent 10 years. Federal legislation called Meaningful Use incentivized nearly every doctor’s office and health system in the country to digitize their medical records. I was fortunate enough to sync up with a few others that foresaw the amount of demand for consulting services that would result. I spent the next five years leading high growth advisory practices at early stage health tech consultancies Falcon (acquired by Avaap) and Nordic (backed by Boston based growth equity firm Silversmith).
Having realized that I loved being a part of building companies in healthcare technology, I spent the next two plus years between grad school and venture capital learning from some of the smartest healthcare minds in the academic and investment communities, while working to define what would eventually become Cured.
How did the idea for Cured originate?
One of my co-founders, Ashmer Aslam, and I actually came up with the name Cured for a healthcare staffing platform (a space that is now very hot) that we entertained launching, but the concept simply wasn’t something we felt passionate enough about to dedicate the next chapter of our careers toward.
We continued to hash out additional concepts in the subsequent months. At the time, Ashmer and our other co-founder, Ro Narayan, were at Salesforce helping the market-leading CRM and Marketing Automation company make inroads into the healthcare and life sciences market. Salesforce had created a lightweight product SKU geared at the market called Health Cloud and was getting initial traction within the health system and payor spaces. However, given the breadth of what can be done with the Salesforce platform and the fact that it is built to serve all industries, healthcare organizations did not necessarily know what use cases it would solve for their businesses. Additionally, implementations were, more often than not, handled by system integration partners that did not always have knowledge of the healthcare industry, leading to varied amounts of success (but often not successful).
On the other hand, I was sitting in venture capital seeing a lot of early stage health tech companies build point solutions that aimed to solve very specific challenges that looked and felt like: consumerism, digital transformation, patient engagement, or similarly hot health tech buzzwords of the moment. However, most felt a little too niche, and I struggled to see how most could evolve to become the next major platform to push healthcare organizations beyond the transactional (and mostly on-premise) systems core to their IT landscape toward what most other industries had begun to achieve with CRM, Marketing Automation, and similar cloud-based platforms.
With those two viewpoints, we worked to define an initial product roadmap of about half a dozen solutions we would want to build on such a platform. We were fortunate enough to line up three top-50 health systems as clients and spend the first six months of our business working with them refine the product roadmap and begin early MVP development.
When did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I can’t say I’ve ever referred to myself as an entrepreneur, nor did I necessarily set out to be one. One of my favorite quotes I read in 2019 was from well known health tech founder, Sean Duffy of Omada Health, who implored fellow health tech founders to “stop calling yourself a ‘startup’.” His rationale was centered around the fact that we are building tech for sizable enterprise clients — with billions in annual revenue and tens of thousands of employees. While ‘startup’ may sound attractive to an investor, it can have negative connotations to our clients who are looking for proven solutions built by those who know the complexities of an industry and its technical landscape. I think the brand ‘entrepreneur’ can have a similar effect. Perhaps I’m just a bit jaded from being surrounded by startup culture during my six years in the Bay Area and a two-year stint in VC.
“While ‘startup’ may sound attractive to an investor, it can have negative connotations to our clients who are looking for proven solutions built by those who know the complexities of an industry and its technical landscape.”
That being said, I’ve always liked to solve substantial problems (and solve them faster than is often possible within a big organization), which I think is a common trait among founders. Undoubtedly, there is just an incredible amount of opportunity for technology to improve the way in which healthcare is delivered across verticals in the U.S., and my co-founders and I have been fortunate enough to gain some unique experiences early on in our careers to play a role in driving the industry forward on the technology adoption and innovation curve.
What are you most excited about in your upcoming product roadmap?
In 2020, we are working to build out a Patient Insights product to pair with our Digital Marketing and Network Management solutions. Essentially, we are applying best practices and lessons learned from consumer insight technologies developed in retail and non-healthcare industries to better understand patient behavior patterns and, in turn, improve engagement between a patient and their healthcare provider.
Applying these principles and strategies to our client base is particularly exciting, in that we have the opportunity to partner with our early adopters to define new metrics and set the standard for what will be commonplace in such an organization 5-10 years down the road.
Cured recently completed its seed funding round — what was one of your biggest lessons going through that experience?
Given Ashmer and my experiences in venture, we were very targeted in our fundraising approach. We knew that we wanted a leading early stage health tech investor and a leading martech investor as a part of the syndicate. Further, we were realistic about the target valuation of our company, the amount of capital needed to achieve subsequent growth goals, and which investors could add non-monetary value at this stage. We largely lined up interest from those who ended up participating within the initial week or two of starting the process, which we did not necessarily expect.
For lessons learned, we ended up testing a secondary fundraising strategy with a very big west coast VC and a very big east coast VC, both of which only write early stage checks closer to $10MM and are hyper tech-focused in their portfolios. Ultimately, I am glad we went through the exercise given I think it was good preparation for a future Series A raise. However, we would have likely overvalued our company and/or given away more equity than we should have. Our tech just was not far enough along to lead to healthy, market investment terms from either party.
Through your career, who have been your biggest mentors?
I was lucky enough to grow up around an irregular amount of great healthcare entrepreneurs all my life. My great grandfather established the main optometry practice in Columbus, IN. My grandfather and his brother established the main optometry practices in North Manchester, IN and Terre Haute, IN, respectively. And my father (my biggest mentor and inspiration), with a few peers, created the main primary care physician group in my hometown, which they sold to the local health system several decades later. Our best family friend, Steve Grossnickle, along with his brother and father, created one of the most reputable ophthalmology groups in the state.
Further, the relatively small lake and farm community I was raised in — Warsaw, IN — is known as the orthopedic capital of the world. Zimmer, Biomet, DePuy — all major players in the global orthopedic device market — were founded in my hometown. I grew up around several of the related executives and their families, notably Biomet’s SVP of International Operations Chuck Niemier and Paragon Medical founder and CEO Toby Buck; both incredible entrepreneurs with big personalities that were kind enough to connect me with internship opportunities within their respective companies when I was definitely too young to deserve them.
Outside of Cured, how do you recharge or spend your free time? What are you passionate about outside of work?
My wife and I just had our first child, a boy named Oliver, on January 29th. So, navigating the waters of first time parenthood is how we are spending a lot of our free time currently.
Aside from fatherhood, I am a pretty avid outdoorsman. I love cycling of all types (road, gravel, and mountain) and try to carve out time most days of the week to get out on the bike. Additionally, I enjoy snowboarding, surfing, hiking, and generally getting outside.
What advice would you have for other founders and CEOs of high-growth startups?
First, you can’t build a company alone. Building a company is not a quick nor easy process. Creating a strong team and support system from day one is only going to strengthen your odds of success. For me, finding a co-founder or co-founders that bring the same level of drive, execution, and endurance to the table is worth any sacrifice in equity, control, etc. that you might otherwise retain.
Secondly, speaking with your customers regularly and understanding the “voice of the customer” is critical. I would go further to say that, as a founder, you even need to understand and regularly observe the day-to-day workflows that are core to your end users being successful in their jobs. From there, it’s all about finding the right balance between allowing those conversations and observations to inform, but not dictate company or product direction.
If people are interested in learning more about using Cured or joining the Cured team, where should they go for more information?
Our website, www.cured.health, is a great place to start. We are looking to grow our team by 15-20 more folks in 2020 and regularly update our jobs page. Additionally, we are launching some new product demos in March of this year that we are pretty excited about. If you’re interested in getting an early look, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.