An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Dr. Tiffany Mullen (co-founder and CEO) of Vytal Health, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Vytal – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
While there are no shortage of problems to solve in health care, I launched Vytal Health as a response to my own experience as a patient and physician. At 17 months of age, I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune degenerative disease, which has meant that I spend a lot of time as a patient. As the decades passed, I noticed shorter and shorter visits, an unraveling of the sacred doctor/patient relationship, and an over-reliance on pharmaceuticals as the only tool in the doctor’s toolkit. I set out to change this by becoming a physician myself, but soon realized the deck was stacked against physicians too, with productivity payment of physicians and an immense, inefficient health care system driving the transactional care that has left much of the “care” in health care in smoldering ruins.
The traditional transactional approach does not nurture a trusting relationship between a doctor and a patient, and it does not allow for the root cause of problems to be discovered and unpacked. I sought additional training in integrative and functional medicine (two practice approaches that dig deeper into uncovering the “why” behind a patient’s symptoms). I practiced in a large health system at the time, and patients were clamoring to receive this kind of care. I witnessed a true hunger from patients to be seen and heard, to understand their illnesses in detail, and to partner with a physician who really cared, just like I want as a patient.
In a system where a typical physician visit is 10 minutes, I knew that in order to do what I knew was right for patients, I had to leave. My co-founder and I launched Vytal Health in 2018 as a telemedicine service to provide doctors with a place to deliver integrative and functional medicine, and patients to find the perfect doctor for them to help solve their health problems. We were looking to solve the angst both patients and physicians are feeling, deliver care via telehealth for scale, and provide an exceptional experience for both physicians and patients.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
There have been so many hurdles, it is almost impossible to decide which are the biggest. For any new business that wants to scale rapidly, raising funds is a huge challenge, particularly for founders that are launching their first venture. While we were lucky to have friends and family that believed in us and provided some seed money, the COVID pandemic made fundraising difficult. Health care is a highly regulated industry, and so the cost of setting up a health care business from a legal perspective is substantial. While I’m proud to say our revenue has doubled every year since inception, it is hard not to feel like your growth is hampered by funds, almost continuously. The other significant hurdle was discovering that my cofounder and I were not a good fit to run the company together. The challenges of a startup will stress-test any relationship. Ultimately, we parted ways very amicably. I’m grateful to my cofounder, Alex Yampolsky, for believing in my vision for the company and continuing to support the company whole-heartedly.
What does the future hold for Vytal?
We are currently seeing patients in 41 states. We have a solid business model, and are nearing profitability. While many startups launch with “hockey-stick” growth projections, the truth is it takes time to get to that inflection point for growth. The Silicon Valley adage “move fast and break things” is fun when you’re a SaaS company, but when your startup is a service and you are working with patients who have significant health problems, you need to take your time and get it right. 2023 is the year for that inflection point to hit for Vytal Health.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Milwaukee?
The local tech startup scene in Milwaukee has grown a lot since Vytal Health launched in 2018. We have some amazing companies and founders that call the Milwaukee area home. I think most of the startup community here would agree that there isn’t as much startup capital available as we would like to see, especially compared to other parts of the country that are similar in geographic size. Many startups are still going outside of Milwaukee for institutional capital.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Before I launched Vytal Health, I met with a local startup founder who had had a company for several years and had experienced the ups and downs of startup life. Despite the bumpy road, this founder emphatically wrote the words “DO IT!” in my notebook where I was taking notes on our conversation. You don’t need experience to be an entrepreneur. You need drive, resilience, and passion for the problem you’re trying to solve. If that describes you, DO IT!