An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Sid Viswanathan (co-founder and president) of Truepill, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Truepill – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
I met Truepill’s co-founder, Umar Afridi, on LinkedIn over four years ago. I was interested in learning more about the healthcare space and his profile description of “pharmacist and entrepreneur” immediately caught my eye. I messaged him out of the blue, and fortunately, he responded. The conversation and partnership grew from there.
As a trained pharmacist, Umar shared the challenges he experienced working in the industry, including manual processes and archaic technologies that led to a high-stress work environment for pharmacists, and long lines and fulfilment delays for patients. As a former product manager, I knew the injection of modern tech into the stale pharmacy system could create a huge impact.
We teamed up and reached out to various healthcare insiders to gather additional insights and concluded that our hunch was right – the pharmacy industry was ripe for a technological revolution. One of our first “ah-ha” moments came from an early conversation with one of our first customers. They told us that they were navigating their pharmacy operations by reaching out to various pharmacies on Yelp. Umar and I knew that this process wasn’t sustainable and, in order to scale, they needed a centralized infrastructure.
Since founding Truepill in 2016, we’ve expanded our services beyond prescription fulfillment and delivery to include telehealth and at-home diagnostics. As we started working with more and more customers, we saw that healthcare’s pain points extended beyond just pharmacy. It became clear that the entire industry was disconnected, which led to slowdowns and road blocks for healthcare customers looking to modernize their offerings. We concluded that the key was combining pharmacy with telehealth and diagnostics to create a true end-to-end digital experience for patients. Today, our API-connected platform bridges the gap between these core elements of digital healthcare and addresses inefficient systems across the whole industry.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
The healthcare industry has some of the most competitive modes I’ve ever seen – it’s truly unlike any other industry. Established players are often threatened by new models and incentivized to figure out how to ensure startups like Truepill don’t succeed. That caught us a bit off guard. As a startup, you don’t think about all of your contingencies in the early days. In Truepill’s case, we experienced a false sense of success early on and weren’t prepared for some of the big players coming after us. We didn’t have enough redundancies in place and had too many single points of failure across our business without solid backup plans in place. Luckily, we pushed through it and have since learned how to anticipate these obstacles. We have a renewed focus on making sure that we don’t have single points of failure and have teams dedicated to de-risking our business model.
It’s really easy for startups to get distracted and thrown off track early on, whether it’s an investor emailing you and telling you they love what you’re doing or someone in corporate development from a major company showing interest in your business. These types of distractions can be really hard to turn down but, at the beginning, it’s important to stay focused on finding the right product market fit. Having founded and sold a company prior to starting Truepill, I understood some of these distractions and knew Truepill needed to focus on securing pharmacy licenses and insurance contracts, and scaling our team to meet demand, first and foremost.
Every startup is sure to go through several missteps along the way. The key is deciding which missteps you can recover from and which are existential to you as a business. Being able to separate the two may seem very nuanced or trivial, but if you don’t pick correctly, you could end up in serious trouble. For Truepill, we’ve always tried to prioritize the right things for our company, which, while challenging, has set us up for long term success.
What does the future hold for Truepill?
At Truepill, we envision a future where 80% of healthcare is delivered digitally and, looking forward, we plan to continue developing our pharmacy fulfillment and delivery, telehealth, and at-home diagnostics offerings in order to power that future. While our roots are in powering leading direct-to-consumer health brands, such as GoodRx, hims & hers, Nurx. and Simple Health, it’s always been a part of our playbook to expand into telehealth and diagnostics as well.
We’re currently expanding to work with the nation’s largest healthcare companies and other emerging players, like Pear Therapeutics and Gauss Surgical. For instance, we recently partnered with UnitedHealth Group (UHG) to launch Well At Home, a contact-free, seamless, at-home care experience to help combat the flu and COVID-19. The program aims to address flu symptoms within 48 hours of presenting by delivering effective at-home diagnosis and treatment before illness advances to a critical state.
We also just teamed up with Health Transformation Alliance (HTA) to launch a COVID-19 digital testing and treatment platform for employers and their employees. The platform is designed to help employers safely transition back to in-person worksites by providing access to a combination of COVID-19 testing, clinical care, medication delivery, and vaccination rollout, which they can tailor based on their needs and manage from a single, user-friendly web portal.
By continuing to partner with diverse players like this across the industry, we’re creating connected, consumer-centric experiences at a greater scale, unlocking the digital treatment of everything from acute illnesses to mental health and chronic conditions.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
There’s never been a better time in history to start a company. Industries across the board are being rocked and forced to change in the face of COVID-19, which creates opportunities for new solutions, technologies, and products. My biggest advice for aspiring entrepreneurs right now is to think about the industries they care about and how those industries might evolve to life after the pandemic. If you bet correctly, you have a chance to be rewarded in a really big way down the line.
Another piece of advice that has served me well is embracing the mentality of showing up everyday. I try not to make excuses or look for reasons not to show up, which has helped me overcome self-doubt and personal limitations every step of the way. You’re going to get knocked down so many different times, but you just have to get back up.
I’ve always been a big sports fan and draw a lot of inspiration from the competitive drive I see in athletes. One of my favorite speeches of all time is Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech. He closes by saying, “limits like fears are often just an illusion”. I love that sentiment, because while you may think that you have a limitation, it’s often just in your head. It all comes down to getting up and showing up, which is something I try to remind myself of every day.