Erica Jain co-founded Healthie, a healthtech infrastructure company, in 2016 as its CEO. Post-pandemic and unprecedented levels of digital health innovation have contributed to the company’s recent inflection in growth. Healthie’s success has skyrocketed under Jain’s leadership, emerging as a leading white label platform for digital-first health organizations with a nine figure valuation and recent raise of $18.5 million. Jain is on the cusp of raising something else as well: she is currently expecting Baby #2.
Especially in recent times of unicorn-status valuations, it may seem like many health tech companies were born overnight. However, Jain points out that she and her partners built their business for the long-haul and weaved that mentality into the company’s DNA. Technology takes years to build in a scalable, reliable manner, independent of resources. Healthie provides business-critical, healthcare-critical software, and as such, it has proven important to build an infrastructure with a solid foundation.
I met Jain a decade ago through mutual friends, and I recently had the chance to reconnect with her on a chilly morning in Portland, Maine before a conference we were both attending. She sat down with me for a conversation to reflect on Healthie’s journey, built with sustainability in mind, both in terms of its business-model as well as company culture.
Within an environment of “growth at all costs”, Healthie has taken a very non-traditional path to building. Tell me more.
We have been operating profitably for the past five years, including through the biggest tech boom cycle our lifetime has seen. We raised a small seed round in 2017, and then didn’t raise again until earlier this year. During those crucial early years, we were laser focused on product development, and it’s been in the past 18 months that our company has really taken off.
We learned so much during those early years. Importantly we were given the space and time to make mistakes and learn from them on a small scale, which I really believe will set us up for long term success. This mentality has seeded our company philosophy: we hopefully don’t make the same mistakes twice.
We experienced a storybook performance our first two years – our team was shipping features overnight, launching them to a customer base that was so excited to use our product. Behind the scenes, we realized that we were accumulating tech debt that was becoming harder to fix. We were putting bandaids on a system in a way that wasn’t scalable. We made the tough decision to rebuild our platform from scratch, with smart engineering decisions that mean we’ll never have to do it again. We’ve since been able to build on our enterprise-grade platform that has been able to scale to millions of API calls each day.
Reflecting back – if we had raised a Series A four years ago, which we could have done, we probably wouldn’t be around today. We wouldn’t have spent money wisely, and would of course missed this new wave of healthcare innovation entirely.
I’ve also learned that profitability is a wonderful, grounding thing on which to build a company. When customers are keeping your lights on, the entire team is motivated to make sure that we continue to deliver value through product and customer experience. We constantly have to prioritize and think about what’s going to drive value for our customers.
We joke, we are 7 years into our 13-year overnight success story.
The COVID pandemic accelerated digital health innovation across the healthcare ecosystem. Tell me how Healthie responded to this influx.
Our entire philosophy has been building long term relationships between providers of care and receivers of care. It takes accountability and tracking to create better outcomes. That has been the underpinning of how we empower our providers.
Trends like preventative care became front and center, and that is how we saw the rise of virtual first healthcare systems that needed a platform overnight. Because we had been building toward this for so long, we were ready for this opportunity. Our customers needed a mature product, API first, so that they could focus on what they do best.
Companies in this space have realized that they can’t build everything in house, they don’t need to, and it’s not a good use of their resources. There is no time to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the core infrastructure that Healthie provides.
What I have learned about business – you have to wait for the opportunity to go big. You need to be around to seize the moment. Our customers did the talking – it was all inbound, we had the infrastructure to support the customers, we reprioritized building out a beautiful developer experience. But it wasn’t a big transition on our end, because we were ready.
What I have learned from our product and engineering team is that enterprise-grade, best-in-class platforms take years to build, no matter how much money you throw at it. COVID accelerated the trends that we had been seeing in the market around preventative, longitudinal care, as we were working with great virtual-first companies prior to COVID. What’s been special is to see the momentum and number of innovative companies during this unique moment of time in digital health.
When we first started Healthie, we had to define telehealth in our pitch deck. It’s wild to see that the tailwinds that we’ve been speaking about for years – prevention, virtual care, longitudinal relationships, coordinated care – are coming into fruition across the healthcare system.
What advice would you give founders about how to think about raising venture capital versus building a profitable business?
There’s a role for venture capital in many businesses, but it’s empowering for founders to choose when they are ready to jump on the venture treadmill. The expectations for company performance are high, and taking on too much capital before you are ready for it can force founders to have to make decisions that are not good for the long-term viability of a company or good for customers and employees.
From my experience, it’s critical to make sure that you have a strong business foundation – operations, processes, and culture – before taking on a large amount of capital. We were ready to accelerate growth and were seeing demand for our product from prospective customers, which helped shape our desire to raise more institutional capital.
You became a mother at the same time as your business was experiencing its largest growth. What was that like?
Once you become a parent and you have a company, you learn to live peacefully in a world of infinite chaos. Going through the process of pregnancy and becoming a parent puts priorities into perspective really quickly. I learned that maternity leave is an incredible thing for a leader to go through – it forces process building, documentation, and delegation – and shared institutional knowledge, which is important for scale. An organization isn’t built on one person, it’s built on teams and processes working together. I have had to ensure that I am building an infrastructure that will function not only in extended absence, but that will scale. Company knowledge can’t sit only with people who have been there since Day 1.
How do you think about building company culture and what have you learned from personal experience?
The parenting journey creates pathways to build all of the things that we know to be important for great company culture: communication, shared processes, and collaborative leadership. Through my experience with pregnancy, I learned how powerful it can be to be transparent and authentic with my team about what I was going through. For example, this time around, when first trimester symptoms required me to ask for team coverage, it was amazing to see the culture of “don’t worry, we’ve got it, we’re in this together.”
What I’ve also learned is that the one-time event of maternity leave is only part of the solution to provide a sustainable, long-term culture for parents. It’s much more important to create a working environment that will allow parents (and even non-parents) to have the day-to-day flexibility they need for years and years of success at a company. I hired one individual who said, “I want to be a part of Healthie, I love what you are doing. But I have two kids, and I have been out of the workforce for 5 years. I am ready to dive back in. I am going to have to do drop-off and pick-up twice a day. But I am not going to let that stop me from doing a good job.” It is not about clocking in and out.
Healthie’s API-first and fully brandable suite of solutions – EMR, coaching platform, scheduling software, and patient engagement – enable healthcare builders to launch and scale best-in-class experiences for their members and quickly scale a provider network. Currently, more than 2,000 organizations use Healthie’s services and organizations that use Healthie work with more than 2 million patients on the platform. For more information on Healthie, click here.