What happens when two kids grow up together and start a band? Naturally, they start a digital health company as well. It’s the classic American tale.
Well, maybe not classic, but it’s what happened when Blake Walker had an idea for a digital health company that would redesign the payment experience for both patients and doctors.
And we talk about it all on this week’s VentureClash podcast episode.
This week, we talk to Blake Walker, co-founder of the digital health company Inbox Health.
Here are a few highlights from the interview:
- PPC advertising has helped them find clients and grow nationally.
- After only one year in the market, Inbox Health has already acquired a kindred company.
- Being based in Connecticut has given them access to better rent, incredible talent and competitive salaries.
We talk about a lot more together, and you can hear it all on this week’s episode.
Watch, listen or click to subscribe below!
SHOWNOTES / TRANSCRIPTION
In this week’s episode, Blake mentions the following:
- Inbox Health inboxhealth.com
- Cake Health cakehealth.com
- Hip Chat hipchat.com
- Asana asana.com
- Slack slack.com
- Connecticut Innovations ctinnovations.com
- Startup Health startuphealth.com
- 500 Startups 500.co
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Welcome to the VentureClash Entrepreneurship podcast, where we meet entrepreneurs in the digital health and fintech spaces. Together we’ll hear real-world stories, gain practical insights and discover the amazing things happening behind the scenes driving early-stage companies making their mark. It’s time for the VentureClash Entrepreneurship podcast.
KENNY: Hi there everybody! Welcome to another installment of the VentureClash Entrepreneurship podcast. We are on episode three today. My name is Kenny Jahng, host of the podcast. Today, I’m fortunate to be sitting across the interwebs from Blake, who is the co-founder and chief product officer of Inbox Health. Prior to that, he’s been starting Inbox Health. He’s been in the finance and product management area, eventually working on consumer finance and products for electric procedures and health care. And that experience apparently what led him to the founding of Inbox Health, as he recognized the struggle in the doctor’s offices to collect money from patients, etc. The Connecticut-based startup really is trying to pioneer within this digital health space, and I’m glad to have you with us today, Blake. Welcome.
BLAKE: Thanks, Ken. Good to be here.
KENNY: First, let us learn a little bit about your story and your background, Blake, you know, how you got interested in the entrepreneurship community and health care in particular.
BLAKE: It’s kind of interesting. In college, I studied musicology, which is basically just music history and theories. It had nothing to do with anything that I’m doing now. But I do think that it’s part of my creative streak, maybe. And then, as I left school, I started getting involved in finance, commercial financing for doctor’s offices. Then, eventually working in a product management role on a consumer elective procedure financing product. So, you know, you go into the plastic surgeon and you need financing for that procedure. That’s sort of where I were introduced to the issues that traditional doctors, non-electro procedures were actually facing as they start to become interested in this, financing products for their practices. They didn’t really want a cardiologist offering an interest-free loan to the old lady who needed her heart taken care of. You kind of wanted that problem to be solved in another way. That’s sort of where I got the inkling for Inbox Health and started down that path. It was an interesting winding road but I’m happy to where I lived.
KENNY: Interesting. So, the innovation of Inbox Health today, you were attempting to redesign this entire patient payment experience with the doctor’s office. I think anyone watching here that has dealt with any doctors in office can sympathize or empathize with that pain point in particular, right? That unending correspondence. It’s just confusing; it’s time consuming. It’s just a headache. And you’re trying to unravel all that basically, right?
BLAKE: Yeah, it’s funny, because our customer is the doctor’s office. They’re the ones losing money and who need to solve the problem most. But, the patients are also benefiting gravely because the experience on their side is, everyone knows, it’s just terrible. It lacks any transparency. You never know how much it’s going to cost. People have much higher deductibles now than they ever have before. It’s a growing problem for both patients and their doctors, and the doctors are just the ones willing to pay to fix it.
KENNY: Wow. That’s interesting to hear that the doctors actually care about it, in the end, although it’s probably wallet-driven. So, let’s go back to the beginning. How old is Inbox Health? How far you guys have been to this whole venture?
BLAKE: So, we started in April 2014. We’re going on about two years now. And we launched our first product, January 2015. We’ve been out in the market for about a year and a half now.
KENNY: How many people do you have in your team, right now?
BLAKE: We have four software engineers and two people on the sales and support roles, and then our CEO and myself are sort of outside in that group there, so I think eight total.
KENNY: I love founder stories. One of the things we talked about in the pre-call area is that you have an interesting connection, or a longtime connection, with one of the co-founders. Tell us a little bit about that.
BLAKE: Yeah, I think it was fourth grade. I went to his birthday party. And all throughout high school we are involved in music together. We did all the musicals in high school. And we fell out of touch a little bit in college days. We went different ways. But after school, he had been working at 3M. They’ve had a healthcare division. It’s called 3MHIS. He was working there. And I come up with this idea. I wanted to design a site, a project management site. He’s like one of those kids who was programming when he was in diapers. I was this kind of a nerd. But nerds become infinitely more valuable later in life, especially when you’re in the startup field. So, we started working together on the product. We have quite the history—mostly musical history—but it’s become more of a technology history lately.
KENNY: That’s funny. Yeah, nerds win in the end, sometimes. Let’s go back to your project. Tell us a little bit about the actual service that you are actually delivering. Is this a software service? Is it a consultation? What is it?
BLAKE: It’s a software service platform that the doctor subscribed to. It’s really what we call a patient revenue management platform. It encompasses a lot of the patient experience, and what we really like to do is start the patient’s payment experience far earlier than those other products do. So, we start at the patient, at check-in, before they ever come to the office. We’re actually sending them text messages and emails, reminding them about their visit, letting them check in online. And as part of that check-in process, we educate them about their benefits. We actually connect them to insurance companies, pull back data from the insurance companies and help them understand what the costs are gonna be before they go into the office. So, then, a lot of what we have seen is, the problem in the healthcare space is expectations are never set. It’s pretty difficult to do. As the patients are coming in through Inbox Health, they’re actually having their post-expectations set. They really understand how their insurance works—what it’s gonna cover and what it’s not gonna cover. So they really come to the office a lot more prepared. And with Inbox Health, they often already paid for a good portion of the procedure beforehand. And on the backside, we have this platform that lets the doctor’s staff manage the entire process, makes it easy and automated. But it also makes the whole experience lot more digital-friendly for the patients. It’s just a better experience on both sides of the table.
KENNY: What’s the average sweet spot for your customer? Is it a sole practitioner? Is it a medical group practice?
BLAKE: As we started out, and I think this is probably atypical for new companies, we started with smaller groups, especially in [the] healthcare space. I think a lot of digital health companies can probably relate to the experience of integration modes. It’s a very integration-heavy industry. There’s a lot of powerful, large players in EHR [electronic health records] companies. They really own the data, own the space. And working with them can be really difficult as a new startup. So starting small lets us sort of get our feet with get the product tested, ramp it up. And now, we’re sort of in this milligram where we’re working with six to eight practitioners. Six to eight doctors in the office. I’m looking to grow towards a larger customer, and we’re starting that conversation now at some of the larger enterprise healthcare players—you know, everywhere from the doctor on the corner to Yale Medical Group in California, you know, hundreds of doctors across the entire state. That’s really where we would like to end up ultimately, but I think building the product and getting your foot in the door is easiest in a smaller group, especially in healthcare space.
KENNY: How much attraction have you gotten to date? How are you guys faring right now?
BLAKE: So, we have over 150 practices that are using our product all across the country. Definitely a little bit heavier in the Northeast, where we are located, but a lot of what we [have] done in the smaller groups has been SEO conversions, Google AdWord conversions, but that [is] just the nationwide. We are able to quickly get over a hundred customers, so it’s great to have people using the software. Six hundred thousand patients have come through it. So, it’s pretty heavily used. And it helps you sort of prove out that model as you go on to the larger companies.
KENNY: If you were using pay-per-click advertising for lead generation, the actual subscription cost must be, it’s not a high-value, high-dollar product, not in the five-digit or six-digit range, right? What’s the average cost for a practice to adopt your services?
BLAKE: For small practices, they’re paying about a hundred dollars a month. In a small practice setting, it’s definitely lower in cost. But as we sort of build up our product a little bit more, and moving upstream in terms of going to larger clients, it’s definitely something that’s increasing. We’re starting to see now larger clients who were in the $1,200-, $1,500-a-month range. It’s definitely something that has shifted over time. And, it’s always kind of interesting to be, we’re a new company. We’re talking to a venture capitalist all the time. Over the period of time we’re talking to them, things were changed pretty greatly. So, it’s interesting to tell that story in a convincing way, to make sure that they understand how things have to shift, especially in a healthcare space. It’s a very unique space. Things can take a little bit longer than other places. If you have the right investors, partners who sort of understand that health space, I think that they can wrap their heads a little bit better.
KENNY: Are you actually able to acquire the customer on the Internet and get them on board without any of your team members actually picking up the phone and getting involved?
BLAKE: Yeah, we are. We didn’t think that we would be able to. I think a lot of people doubted that it was possible in health care, but yes, we do that more often than anything else.
KENNY: That’s pretty cool.
BLAKE: We spend a lot of time building out an onboarding process that was entirely digital. One of the great tools we actually utilize for helping with our process is called Intercom, which is a great support tool that’s very engaging for the customer to bring them into the process and having someone there for them all the time. So, when they get stuck in that stuff and they have that question, you know, about how many doctors can I have, can I do this, can I do this, we can walk them through a chat. It saves us a lot of time, unless we’re on board with a lot more people. You know, we don’t really have [a] sales team. We’re a small company. We have one support person, who really can’t manage all the onboarding process, so it’s been great to have that digital, but certainly something like now that into the larger groups, you know, onsite training, frequent training webinars. So, in that two shifts, as you go, but definitely, when we’re starting out, that’s the way to go.
KENNY: For the clear majority of practices, being able to sell online is just a huge game changer, right?
BLAKE: Sometimes it’s a competitive and urgent way. It’s so rare in healthcare space that there are groups that want that easy access. A few people who can provide that to them.
KENNY: You got that sweet story where you go into Shark Tank and say, “I just need more money to scale.”
BLAKE: Yeah, exactly.
KENNY: Awesome. Tell me a little bit about, you know, the support member that you actually have. You obviously are doing really well. And I’m on typically behind great entrepreneur stories. There are either mentors or a network that’s installed. Do you have that type of support system located where you are? First of all, where are you guys located operating out of?
BLAKE: So, we’re located in Bridgeport, Connecticut, right downtown. It’s very up and coming city. One of the best things about it is that we’re very close to New York, Boston and the insurance companies, which are all in Hartford. We have cheaper rent by far and lower salaries by far than any of those major metro areas. It’s kinda got the best of both worlds.
KENNY: Are you seeing other peer digital health companies in that area? Because it seems to be that medical health care this area of geography tends to be in high concentration of those type of entities.
BLAKE: I definitely feel like New York is becoming the hopes of digital health, and we’re very close to it. Connecticut itself, I think, one of the great things in Connecticut is innovations, and digital health has been huge for them, having Yale University. Obviously, biotech comes a little bit more refocused with some of it. Academic hubs. But, there’s definitely a growing digital health space both in Connecticut and especially in New York City.
KENNY: Got you. You’ve got an actual acquisition under your belt already as entrepreneur, right?
BLAKE: We do, and I think that goes back to the support system. We’re part of a program called StartUp Health, which is a long-term incubator program. We’ve been there for the entire two years. And Keyhealth is in there as well. We’ve been talking to the founder of KeyHealth for a long time. It’s been sort of a natural fit, KeyHealth. Well, KeyHealth is basically for health care.
KENNY: Inbox Health is aimed at the doctor and practitioner, and KeyHealth is actually focused on the patient itself, right?
BLAKE: Exactly, yeah. I mean KeyHealth is helping the patients sort of catalogue and organize their health expenses. So, like connecting that with your platform that was helping the doctors get better at digitally connecting to patients, billing patients digitally. Connecting those two things helps us sort of spread the wealth. [A] patient then who is going to a doctor’s office that uses Inbox Health is able to not just pay their bills to that doctor but pay any bill to any doctor. So, for us, it’s sort of naturally a lead-generation machine, because it’s just sending Inbox Health right into these other doctor’s offices that they’re connecting with. And on the patient consumer side, it’s super convenient. It just makes our product that much more valuable both to the doctor and then to the patient. You know, sort of, customer by default, as the relationship with the provider makes them our customer.
KENNY: Have you learned anything about that acquisition process? If you were to talk to other peer entrepreneurs right now in a similar space and spot, what’s your biggest advice about that?
BLAKE: I think it’s tricky. We actually work soft for an acquisition company as well. And that didn’t pan out. I think it’s all about fit. Products really have to be the perfect fit. Teams have to be a perfect fit. I think that you just have to be patient. And not make any rash decisions. It has to be perfect. Because this is like, you know, your company’s your baby. There’s only gonna be one time where you can sell it. And it may not ever be right to sell it. I think it’s just gotta be perfect and it’s just an advocate for patients and seek out advice of wise people and talk about it a lot before you make any moves. Yeah, it’s an interesting thing to think about selling a company that you built yourself.
KENNY: Where are your operations located? Will they invite you or were there some geographic of somewhere else?
BLAKE: They were in San Francisco. But we didn’t bring on any of their staff. Other than Rebecca, herself, is an adviser. We were really just acquiring the product and technology behind the product. And that’s what were important to us. And that’s what they were set up to do. That’s what a really interesting acquisition from [an] unusual relationship with startup pals.
KENNY: Nice. Sounds like you guys are on a fantastic ride. Are you ready for our lighting round of questions to close our interview?
BLAKE: I think I am.
KENNY: The first one is, as a startup entrepreneur, I think everyone in this lifestyle understands that we have only 24 hours a day. You probably feel that hard stop—the limitation, the human limitation there. Productivity honestly is something that we’ve always turned up the game on. What digital productivity tool, resource, approach or service has been uber-helpful for you and your team in this integration of your startup?
BLAKE: I think there’s two things that a lot of people are using. One is Slack. Slack is really the heart of our entire organization. Everything in our Inbox Health app connects to it. When a new customer signs up, when there’s a question, everything goes to Slack. When a payment is made by a patient, it goes through Slack. All goes through Slack. And, it really lets us connect and catalogue everything that we do. If you see other companies that are doing some things, I think having something like that today is essential when you’re starting a company, started out with a tool like that. You have this opportunity with a fresh start to have this uber-productive company and Slack or Hipchat, one of those things. It’s a great tool to sort of have to connect the entire organization.
KENNY: Did you guys build custom hooks into Slack?
BLAKE: Yeah, it’s really easy to do, too. If you’re a software engineer, it’s very easy. You know, it’s not . . . at everything we do, every new product feature and all, gets a connection to Slack. It’s really super easy and really easy to do.
KENNY: Everyone is loving podcasts these days, the rise of Netflix etc. Everyone’s consuming content on demand. What podcasts are you listening to these days? To get up an edge in the entrepreneurship and business and life.
BLAKE: So, there’s two podcasts that are great. One is Anderson Howard’s podcast, AC360 is the name of it. Always great. Always great guests, great content. The other is the StartUp podcast, which is Alex Blumberg Gimlet Media. Everything Gimlet does is great. But, the StartUp podcast is terrific. They just started their third season and they did profiling all different companies. I think they did a twitch recently which is great. A really great podcast. Alex has really done a lot for podcasting in terms of production value. It’s pretty great stuff.
KENNY: Last question is people that’s listening in today. If they wanted to get a hold of you, Blake, what’s the best way or method to do that?
BLAKE: Always email, email@example.com, is great, but also Twitter, @blake0walker or @inboxhealth. Both are actually me. So, yeah, any of those are great ways to get in touch. We’re always trying to be open to contact and communication.
KENNY: Awesome. Thank you so much. There you have it, folks. We got Blake Walker, co-founder and chief product officer of Inbox Health. Thank you so much for spending time with us today, Blake. I know it’s very busy up there in Connecticut with your team. Really appreciate giving us a key insight of your company today.
BLAKE: Thanks again. Thanks for having us.
KENNY: Everybody else, if you want to learn more about this startup and others, I’m inviting you to visit our website at VentureClash.com. That’s also the place you will learn about the five-million-dollar Venture Startup Competition this year that’s going on right now for you. If you are interested in the digital health, insurtech and fintech spaces, I invite you to check that out, figure out what the details of the competition are. Applications are being taken right now. That’s all available for you at VentureClash.com. ’Til next time, I am Kenny Jahng, host of the VentureClash Entrepreneurship podcast. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.