SaaS Founder Interview with Zack Fisch-Rothbart, CEO & Founder of CoHealth
CoHealth is a patient relationship platform that improves patient outcomes and experiences by providing a single point of access for the entire healthcare experience.
Tony Zayas 0:00
All right, everybody. Welcome to another SaaS founders show. This is Tony Zayas here, joined by Andy Halko and he’s our… How are you doing Andy?
Andy Halko 0:02
Good? You’re not going to say the one and only?
Tony Zayas 0:05
The one, very one only.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 0:05
Tony Zayas 0:24
Yeah. So how are things going?
Andy Halko 0:27
Things are fantastic. Absolutely awesome. Can’t complain. Even with the weather, enjoying getting ready for the holidays. How about you?
Tony Zayas 0:36
Yeah, same here. I, I don’t mind the weather. I’m kind of a winter guy. So I’m okay with that. But yeah, getting ready for the holidays.
Andy Halko 0:44
I know we have another awesome, fantastic guest today. Who do we got? And what are we talking about?
Tony Zayas 0:51
Yeah, so this is an exciting one. We have Zack Fisch-Rothbart. He’s the co founder and CEO of CoHealth. It’s so we’re going to talk about CoHealth but also he’s got some exciting news. This is kind of a transitional time. So let’s bring Zack on. And take off the screen. Hey, Zack, welcome How you doing?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 1:08
Hey, guys, I’m doing well. Thanks. How are you?
Tony Zayas 1:11
Yeah, very good. Very good. Thank you for being here. This is very exciting. And we’re catching you. You know, we chatted just before we went live here real quickly. But really exciting time. There was a big announcement just in the last couple of weeks. Some transition. So you know, when we, when we got you all set up for, to come on the show. You are the co founder of CoHealth app and CEO there and CoHealth is acquired, correct?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 1:34
That’s right. Yeah, we made the announcement two, three weeks ago now.
Tony Zayas 1:36
Wow, congrats. That’s super exciting.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 1:37
Thank you very much.
Andy Halko 2:00
That’s what that’s part of the story that I think folks that tune in and kind of watch our show are always interested in is, you know, what’s that transition? And, you know, it’ll be interesting to hear the backstory, that process and now where you’re going after?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 2:18
Sure. Yeah, so I’ll try to not be too health specific. Because there’s just a boom in digital health happening right now, given the world that we’re living in. But I think what a lot of people have realized, in recent months, brought on by what’s happening in the world is that, you know, we can do health care very differently. And what we were basically building at CoHealth was a platform to help healthcare organizations share trusted health content with their audiences. So imagine like your local hospital or doctor’s office basically had their own version of WebMD with a bunch of tools alongside that content, to help drive better experiences and outcomes for their patients. So we scaled that platform to about 200 different health organizations across North America. Had 50,000 patients that were using platform. And we recently exited to acto which is another Toronto based company that has a big footprint in the life science and life science space. And they were there was a it was very interesting process. But long, the short of it is you know, life science companies are a really big part of the value chain in terms of delivering value for patients in terms of knowledge surrounding med devices and drugs that they need to support their health. And we felt that there was really good alignment there for for that being a new home for CoHealth.
Andy Halko 3:44
Yeah, that’s really exciting. I mean, I think it’s always a you know, big deal when you have a moment like that. But maybe you can take us back in time to kind of the origin story of where you started. And and how you started CoHealth and why and just, you know, what did all that look like?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 4:05
Yeah, so I actually started co health, I have no background in the healthcare sector, which might be a little bit odd for a healthcare founder or previous healthcare founder. A lot, s lot of founders in the health space have, you know, Doctor, their MDS, or they, you know, have some kind of background in the sector. I was a patient. So, back like, almost 10 years ago now, more than 10 years ago, I was a student at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Canada, and I was playing my first ever game of Ultimate Frisbee. I was wearing basketball shoes, it rained the night before in the field I was playing on so it was wet and I was wearing improper footwear. And I broke my leg. First game of ultimate ever which is a non contact sport, broke my leg and had to undergo surgery, developed a complication post op. And that progressed to the point my leg was nearly amputated. So really unfortunate experience. And it was it was avoidable. And, you know, just drawn back to that. If I had the knowledge and the understanding of what to look for, it wouldn’t have gone as bad as it did. So I wanted to build something that could have, you know, help people like me in a similar circumstance. And that’s kind of the origin story behind CoHealth.
Andy Halko 5:21
And you did that with a co founder? How did you meet him? And how did you go through that process?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 5:28
Yeah, so my co founder, his name’s Cory Blumenfeld. He’s a, he’s a good friend. I knew him before we actually started the company together. We were in the same college town at the same time. And we were in a similar friend group, but we’re friends ourselves. But I actually reconnected with Cory. Because I’ve matched with his sister on Tinder at the time. And, you know, one day showed up at his sister’s place, and he was there. And he said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ Reconnected and decided to start a company together.
Andy Halko 6:05
That’s fantastic. Tell me about the co founder experience. I you know, I mean, I think over the years is I’ve talked to different folks that have started businesses, whether alone, you know, there are challenges that can sometimes come from having a co founder. But tell me about your experience. You know, what was it like starting together going through, you know, some of the the processes, including the ups and downs. Talk about your experience having a co founder?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 6:34
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s a wild roller coaster of emotion. Having a co founder, because you, you love them, they’re your your friends, spend more time with them than your family, like you are basically married to this person. for the duration of your company, right? You know, that could be you know, in the case of an acquisition or failure, that could be a couple of years, or it could be 20, right? And I think that having a very clear set of rules or guidelines, just understanding each other, right, what what makes the other person tick? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are the things that really get you going? And how do you resolve disputes in a calm and collected way? I think are just transparent conversations to have between founders, the very early stages, because just… Just like getting married, right? You want to know what you’re getting into. You want to have all the important conversations before things get really important, like before you buy a house. And I think that that that kind of decision making is really important in the founder relationship story to.
Andy Halko 7:38
Did you sign a prenup and go through the whole legal process early and before you guys jumped in together?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 7:46
So because of our existing relationship, I think there was a little bit of trust there. So we did we didn’t we didn’t sign a prenup, or anything like that. But, but we did have a lot of those conversations up front, right, just better understanding each other. And I think that over the lifespan of the company, we both grew a lot as well. And our strengths and weaknesses changed and evolved over time. So I think just have being able to have open and honest conversations with each other about, you know, what’s working, what’s not working, is just really important.
Andy Halko 8:14
And did you think that that ended up being okay, and working out that you guys didn’t create a legal structure around the partnership?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 8:22
Oh, so we did create it, just to be clear. We did create a legal structure around the partnership that we incorporated the company which, which is what most founders do. But we we didn’t formalize our, you know, personal relationship or anything like that. We didn’t have a, like a charter as I know, some founders do, or like a guiding document. We just always promised to be open and honest with each other and talk to one another when that when it you know, there were hard decisions to make.
Andy Halko 8:48
Yeah, I originally had a partner, actually, when I started my business, you know, and I think after years, I ended up buying him out a number of years later. And I think when I went through that experience of buying him out, I wish we had had, you know, more detailed documentation and, and other information, you know, going into that process. So I kind of learned the lesson of, you know. He was a friend of mine from college, the handshake, and, you know, this is, this is what we’re gonna do. A couple years down, the line can change. And so I’m always kind of interested in other people’s experiences with, you know, partners, and both the relationship and the legal side and some of those pieces
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 9:33
for sure. Yeah, I mean, you know, I’m very fortunate the new company that I’m, I’ve recently joined the leadership team on which you guys wanted to talk about is that I’m working with a couple very close longtime friends of mine known these people for for a decade. And one of the things that law school taught me was, even if you’re going into business with your best friend or family, you know, trust but verify and have all the documentation setup from a very early stage, just to make sure that everything’s in place as it should be.
Andy Halko 10:07
Yeah, I know that. I think that’s great advice. Um, you know, you and I, we met at a pitch competition. And so we, how long ago that was probably like, what, two years ago, something.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 10:19
Yeah, must be two-three years.
Andy Halko 10:22
And you actually came, we’re in Cleveland, you came to Cleveland, I was doing some judging and some mentoring there. And I think we had we talked and connected, which I think is an interesting opportunity. Because one thing we haven’t really talked about with any of our other founders is the pitching process, going out and pitching your business, and whether that’s trying to raise money, or that’s, you know, in a contest, which is what you were in. So talk to me about that in your business? Did, did you do a lot of competitions and pitching? And what was that like?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 10:58
Yeah, so we actually did that quite often. And frequently, I mean, the, you know, I was CEO, and my job was to talk, right? Talk about the company, build up our brand, and get people excited about us, right? That’s, that’s one of the responsibilities of CEOs. And, you know, we must have, at the very early stages of the company for the first year and a half, we bootstrapped product development through pitch competitions, you know, we’re very fortunate, you know, we had pitch competitions, in Cleveland, and a bunch of other places that we went to, and we were successful at those. And in the early stages of the company, we needed more money than we were generating in terms of revenue to, you know, build up the product so that we could earn more capital and generate more revenue over time. So we, you know, pitching was like the lifeblood of the company. For a little while, we probably went through two to 300 different iterations of our pitch deck. From the day we started the company to the day we were acquired, it never stopped. And importantly, nobody ever stopped having feedback for the pitcher for the slide deck, I think there comes a point…
Andy Halko 12:02
Good or bad, right?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 12:04
Good or bad, right. And I think I think it’s just like product design, or art, like, it’s just completely subjective, right? Everybody will always have something to say about it. So I think there comes a point where you realize you want to continuously improve, but you have to be very focused in the feedback that you take in from people and make them make the right call. And sometimes it’s just a gut call on how to tell your story.
Andy Halko 12:28
So what’s, uh, are there any things that over that time that you learned either about the deck, or about the experience of doing pitches that like, okay, I wish I would have known this from the beginning or, wow, this is just, you know, one of the biggest insights that I got going through that whole process?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 12:48
Yeah, I think I think one of the biggest insights, and one of the biggest blunders that most early stage founders make me included, was, you’re thinking about your business, every single minute of the day. And sometimes in your dreams, right? Like, this is your baby. And just like a baby, it has emotions, it kicks, it screams, etc. But other people aren’t, right? They’re not as intimately familiar with your companies you are. So it’s very easy when you’re creating a deck or running through a presentation to get really detailed and talk about the minutiae. And to overload the audience with those details be add visually on the presentation itself, or the contents of the presentation, and what you’re saying to them. And what I learned very quickly was, you know, simpler is better, like less is very much more, or when it comes to giving these present images are always better than words on decks. And we started off with decks that in some cases on some slots had like lines and lines of text and paragraphs on them. And no one was reading them, right? So we learned very quickly to simplify, and we use that as a guiding theme for all of our presentations.
Andy Halko 13:56
Tony Zayas 13:59
Zack so, you’re a developer, correct?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 14:03
So I have a some experience with development, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t go so far to call myself like a software engineer. I did a coding boot camp, where I learned how to code in Ruby on Rails. And I think I very quickly realized that I was not I was not made of the stuff to be a software engineer, like I, you know, I went to business school, I went to law school. That’s the stuff that I get. It just comes naturally to me. But I thought it was important to understand how how development actually happens so that I can have meaningful conversations with product folks. So they they can respect me because I appreciate the work they’re doing and understand what’s happening under the hood.
Tony Zayas 14:45
And that’s where I was going, I guess, how has that helped you having that experience? You know, having some technical acumen as the founder and as a CEO, how has that helped you with it? Be successful be effective.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 15:02
Yeah, I think it’s I think it’s given me some credibility in those conversations that I’m having with product folks or with engineering folks. And also it just I know what I’m what I’m talking about. I’m obviously as I said, like, I am not an engineer, by any stretch of the imagination, I could probably make a really basic HTML website for you, if you wanted it to look like it was built in 1999. But, you know, I think that having some understanding of what’s happening under the hood is really important, especially for non technical founders. Because you’re basically, you know, obviously, and you hope that you have a technical co founder that you can trust in. And that relationship is good, but but understanding what’s happening under the hood, is just a really important part of understanding your business. I’ve also seen a recent trend. And you know, I’ve, I’ve been exploring this a little bit myself, where folks who are working with maybe offshore dev teams, and they don’t really have any oversight as to what’s happening there. If they don’t have a technical background, you’re just basically putting trust into them, right? So, so really, having a little bit of understanding is really beneficial.
Tony Zayas 16:11
Makes a lot of sense.
Andy Halko 16:13
Yeah, I would, I would totally agree what other as you’ve gone through the process in your own evolution, you know, what kind of skills Did you find valuable that you either had or needed to build throughout your process of growing the business and doing things like pitches and, you know, eventually exiting what what kind of skills were important, do you think?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 16:36
Yeah, so I think, in my case, I’m very much an operator. I love doing. Like, give me a problem, I’ll throw myself at it and figure out creative solutions to deal with it until it’s solved. Like, you know, that that’s how I am. And I think the shifting from operator to, to leader to thinking longer term, thinking strategically, in terms of beyond what happens next week, is a shift that I think most founders have a challenge with, but you do have to make if their company’s successful and growing, right? Because the definition of what a productive day and what work looks like for you in the driver’s seat, fundamentally changes at the beginning, you’re doing everything like you’re having meetings with clients, you’re onboarding clients, you’re doing sales. If you’re on the technical side, you’re doing development every single day, you’re in the leads of the product that changes. And I had a lot of, I would say, friction, making that shift in my case, and I think it’s something that founders should be aware of as their company grows.
Andy Halko 17:46
Hmm. Yeah, I think I’ve even seen it the other way, you know, where you have these visionaries that are really forward thinking. And then at some point, the business, they do have to become more operational-minded, and they struggle with that and have a lot of friction. So it’s kind of interesting. Did you build a team? And what did your team look like, as a company?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 18:11
Yeah, so we, we had a very interesting, dynamic, I would say. So Cory, and I actually started the company. We have five co founders. And, you know, building a healthcare startup takes a lot of time. A lot of time and energy, healthcare is a pretty slow moving industry. We had three other founders drop off actually fairly early, because they wanted something that was more stable. So Cory, I basically built a team from scratch between the two of us. And we initially started with a couple of contractors of outside of North America that were helping us on the product side. And eventually we built a full team in our office. We had engineers, we had designers, we had sales folks and client success folks and really just a cross pollination of skill sets to do what needed to be done.
Andy Halko 19:09
Yeah, it’s great what what kind of insights Did you get from you know, the people aspect of a business I think that’s probably been the most common topic that we’ve had on this show is just you know, hiring the right folks and how to manage different personalities and so what, what kind of, you know, interesting aspects did you run into on the people side of the business?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 19:37
Yeah, I think that you know, like the the the old fashioned saying, right? Like ‘leave your leave your personal life at the door’ or something like that. And, and I think that just the modern work environment is is so just naturally opposite to that, right? Like the way that what what’s happening in your personal life and is going to affect your performance is going to affect how you’re doing in the office, it’s gonna affect your mood. So just taking that a step further, like having a personal relationship with your team. And being and having that open dialogue to understand, you know, what’s what’s going on in your life? Like, what’s what’s motivating you? Like, are you are you? Are you happy with how things are going? Are you sad like and why? Going beyond just Hey, this needs to get done. And it’s due on Tuesday, like, can we get this out to the client? Like, that stuff’s really important, because you understand what’s happening in the lives of your of your team, and you can reorient accordingly and have conversations on a deeper level that, you know, allows for the establishment of a meaningful connection beyond just, you know, hey, we work in the same office together. So I think that my, my thinking on that just a more, I would say, human approach to leadership and relationships amongst team members developed naturally over time.
Andy Halko 20:54
How do you find that balance? I know, you know, over the years, for me, I’ve had my business for a long time that. You know, I’ve always found there’s a, you know, a balance, because I think that sometimes I’ve built like really close deep relationships that end up, you know, sometimes being then hard to manage within the business, if you become close friends with folks and a really sharing, but then you can’t be too far away, like you’re saying, where it’s just purely about the work. And so did you ever find that is, is a struggle with the balance of what’s the right level of kind of building close relationships and, and managing the personal side?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 21:37
Definitely. Yeah, I mean, like, our, our, our team was, was ripe with that. In good ways. And maybe some challenging ones, like Cory and I, my co founder, we came into the business together having a pre existing relationship, right. We weren’t close friends. But we were friendly. And we had a key hire on our growth team that came into the company that did have a pre existing friendship with Cory as well. So, so we were we were managing those dynamics, basically, from day one. And I think the the understanding needs to be amongst everybody, right? Like, there’s there’s obviously boundaries, right? Like there’s there’s moments for, for that playfulness, and for that friendship to flourish, inside and outside of the office. But there there are certain circumstances where, you know, stuff needs to get done. And there’s, you know, there needs to be some kind of a boundary, I would put it that way, right? Like, I would talk to my friend and I would talk to Cory privately, in a very different way than I would talk to him in front of the team. Right? Because because we have a friendship, right? You know, you, you, you nudge folks, you, you might call them names in a joking way, right? That’s just what friends do. But the way that you conduct yourselves in front of your team is is very different if that makes sense.
Andy Halko 22:53
Yeah, it’s interesting it… And just to share a story from my side of their wide a client once in a software company, and he brought in the owner, there were three founders, he brought it, the main founder brought in a good high school friend. And that person had a very challenging personality, and ended up pushing out one of the founders. And then when you ask the team, they were all very afraid of this friend. And that friend would always tell people behind the scenes, you better not say anything, because I’ve known this guy forever. And so it’s interesting to me, you mentioned that idea of bringing in like a friend. But I think in the startup world, the interesting thing is that’s sometimes where we go to first is people we know, but there can be such a challenging dynamic to that, too.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 23:46
Yeah. 100% I completely agree. And I think I think the starting point really needs to be on values and decision making. Like, you know, since Colts been acquired, I’ve announced that I’m, I’ve taken on a new role on the leadership team of a new company called equity, which is a which is a bay area based company, focusing on just really exciting stuff, but revolutionising the way that companies compensate people. And you know, that that company was started by a friend of mine that I’ve known for a decade, and his wife, and I was a groomsman at their wedding. I was roommates with Warren in college. So there’s a long history there, right? And one of the one of the first conversations we had when we realized, you know, we want to do this together is how do we how do we do this in a way where our friendship is put first. So we have an arrangement, anagreement where, you know, if we feel like the company is getting in the way of our friendship, then we need to figure that out, right? Like we need to put that first above all else, because we like neither of us want to walk away from this with a friendship that was thrown down the trash.
Tony Zayas 24:54
It’s great. So before we talk a little bit more about equity, because I would love to hear kind of, you know what, what your role is going to be there and what you guys are doing. You’re staying on as a strategic advisor to the company that acquired CoHealth.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 25:14
That’s right. Yeah. So I’m going to be working with them into the new year, making sure that just the transition is smooth. We had some members of our team that also transitioned over with the acquisition. So just making sure that everybody’s taken care of that the technology transfers smooth that the team is in a good spot, and just making sure everything’s taken care of.
Tony Zayas 25:35
Andy Halko 25:35
what was the exit experienc like? You know, was it that they reach out to you? Or did you get to a point that you decided that you wanted to move on? or How did you kind of get to that point?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 25:50
Yeah, so we reached a stage in the company where, you know, there were a number of folks that we were talking with that had just expressed casual interest. I think digital health was was heating up, because COVID was just getting started. And I think a lot of people were orienting towards, okay, this is a real thing now, We need to think a little bit longer term. And for the short term, this is a, this is a must have digital health is a must have to, you know, improve and extend the reach of care. But COVID, in many ways, has also accelerated, I would think, the footprint of digital health as a staple for health care, right? Like, it’s, it’s, I think that you there are these moments in time where there’s just a complete shift, or a complete reset on how people think about things. And for healthcare and digital health, specifically, I think COVID is one of those one of those moments in time. So, you know, we were having a number of conversations with a with a bunch of different companies. And there were a few that ended up developing quite significantly. And we felt really good about one of them. And that’s why Actos our new home,
Andy Halko 26:55
Huh, that’s great was, was it a long process and a lot of work? I think that we talked to one other founder that had gone through, you know, in exit, and they just talked about, you know, how much effort that it took for them to go through. What was kind of that experience like for you? As other people potentially look at, you know, exiting for their own business.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 27:23
Yeah, exiting is a full time job. Right. Like, I think I think that the part of the reason why a lot of founders are rightfully nervous about it is because if the exit doesn’t work, and it falls apart, then you’ve likely wasted months of time that you could have been spent on building additional value for the company, be it’s sales or anything that you would be doing as CEO or as a founder. On the exit, right. So it’s basically kind of like an opportunity cost. So it’s really it’s really a bit of a challenge. But in our case, we’re very fortunate, we were dealing with some some really just, nice and transparent guys on the other side of the aisle on Actos leadership team. And it was, you know, the process took a number of months, but it was it was a fairly smooth one, thankfully. And, you know, I would say for founders that are thinking about this or that are currently having those conversations, there’s typically a few levers of value that any acquiring company wants to look at that they’re basically pulling on when it comes to determining, you know, what determines the deal are and whether or not they want to acquire you to begin with, right? So the first is your tech, right? Like, is there? Is there something proprietary? Is this something unique there? Is there something that’s going to accelerate the roadmap of the company that may be acquiring you? Right? And how far ahead does that put them in? How much value does that in and of itself? Add to them and their roadmap? The second is the team. Is the team necessary? Does the team add value? Is the team required to allow for that acceleration of the roadmap? Right? Are you looking at a, an acquisition Aqua hire situation where the team comes on board and works with them? Who goes and who doesn’t? Does everybody go? Those are some of the questions that quite frequently come up. And then the third thing, which is which is kind of a subset, I would say of team is but a little bit different is leadership. Right? Because in some cases, they just want the team, they want the tack. And you know, there isn’t really an opportunity for the leadership team to transfer over because it’ll be a little bit redundant. And in some cases, there is or in some cases, there’s a bit of a middle ground where there’s like a transition period and maybe you’re supporting with consulting. The those are the three different levers that I would say most folks pull on.
Andy Halko 29:37
Now, I think it’s really interesting. You mentioned the opportunity cost and the fact that if you’re going to go down that route, whether it’s with one company or multiple there’s a lot of time that could go on and grow in the business. Any any thoughts for folks that you know, maybe getting because I even know my business? I’ve had people reach out and say are you looking at are at selling, you know, how do you maybe make that that decision? Or what are the things you might want to look at? to decide if it’s even worth that time versus trying to grow the business and keep moving on? And I’m sure a lot of it’s a personal decision, but I’m kind of curious from your standpoint.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 30:18
Yeah. So I would say, I would say assessing seriousness is, is your number one priority. Like in the first couple of conversations, right? Like your your objective is to basically, as a founder is to balance continuous value add to the company that you’re currently working on. And dedicating as little time to the exit in the acquisition as you can. And one of the ways to kind of balance that out is, is just really assessing how serious this buyer is. Right? Like, if they’re, if they’re just following up, and you’re just having a lot of conversations, and it really isn’t going anywhere, they’re just talking, then chances are, they’re not really serious, and they’re just kicking tires. You know, MBAs diving into data rooms, talking to your clients, talking to the team. Those are all indicators that, you know, they’re moving forward, and they’re taking additional steps to dive a little deeper into the guts of the company. And those would be positive indicators.
Andy Halko 31:15
Yeah, it’s interesting. And I think, you know, I also find it interesting the dynamics of how that can even impact the team, if folks are coming in and doing that due diligence, I’ve heard in other companies that, you know, when it gets around that the company is looking at being, you know, sold, and how does that impact your employees? And they’re thinking, you know, or someone is digging into a certain department, you know, and so was there anything in your company that you had to manage from that perspective of the other people, when it came to that process of evaluating the exit?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 31:53
Yeah. So I mean, we were, and I know, I know, of founders that have taken very different approaches to this. Some founders do not share any acquisition discussions with their team until it’s rock solid, firm. And some take a very different approach. So I did not do that. I want it to be very open and transparent with the team. And as soon as we started having some of these conversations that progressed past the point of, you know, just kicking tires, basically. We said to the team, look, you know, we’re having these discussions where we don’t know how they’re going to end up, we’re going to require you guys to sit down on some of these meetings, because they’re gonna want to talk to your technical team, if you’re a SAS founder, they’re gonna, they’re gonna want to dive under the hood into the product, right, want to talk to the people that built it. And in my personal opinion, you know, just being transparent with the team, so that they understand the context is just as a part of the process, you want everybody to be aligned, and you want everybody to be, you know, cheering this on and hoping for success. So that’s what we did. So there were no surprises.
Tony Zayas 32:57
How was that received by the team? When you shirt is,
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 33:01
I think was positive, right? I mean, in our case, right. Everybody reacted in a way where I think they felt like, oh, wow, somebody sees a lot of value in what we’ve built, we obviously have seen this value before, because we’ve been spending a lot of time energy and money to get to this point. So having that external validation beyond, you know, the the clients that we were working with, and that somebody wants to purchase the company, I think, was a really nice feeling.
Andy Halko 33:28
I’m curious about the you mentioned, the three levers, and you talked about leadership, and sometimes that’s valuable or not, you know, most of the exits that I’ve talked to folks, they usually want, you know, an urn out or some period of time where the founder or founders move over, did you consciously go into the process saying, you know, look, I want to move on to something else? Or, you know, was it more driven by them to say, look, we’re interested in the tech and the people. And this is how we want the deal. How did that kind of play out?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 34:02
Yeah, I think that there were a few different ways that things could have played out in terms of my involvement, and, and potentially Cory’s involvement as well. You know, the way that it ended, I think, was for the best. When I was going into those conversations, I was very transparent with everybody, including the co founders and friends that I’m currently working with on equity, that, you know, CoHealth and bringing that chapter to a successful conclusion as a result of the exit is my number one priority right? You have an established team, you have people that are relying on you, you have investors that are relying on you, that comes first and foremost, right? You can’t, you can’t what’s the saying? ‘The captain is the last one off the ship, right?’ So that’s really kind of the mentality that I embraced in this in the circumstances that we were dealing with. And once that was Kind of buttoned up. And the the next steps were very clear my involvement with the acquisition in terms of next steps was clear. Only then did we go public with the announcements of, you know, my involvement with equity and my next steps, and only then did I feel comfortable committing, you know, on a full time basis to to that as my next journey.
Andy Halko 35:21
I’m curious, before we want to hear kind of about your transition and where you’re going, but, you know, continuing to look at your current company, where do you see that industry going? And kind of software within the health space? You know, what’s, since you’ve been so ingrained in it for a couple of years now, what did you see? And what do you see happening?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 35:46
Yeah, so I think first and foremost, the data speaks for itself. So health, health consumers, which are, which is all of us. We all have some kind of interaction with the healthcare system, whether it’s our doctor or clinic or a hospital want digital health tools to make more informed decisions, the data is very clear over 90% of consumers want that and they want it for different reasons. But they want to make more informed decisions when it comes to A) their understanding of any health situations that they’re dealing with. And B) they want to be proactive in their health. If there’s, if there’s tools they can use to more effectively manage, you know, perhaps a chronic condition, or perhaps care of a loved one, right? They want access to those things now, more than ever, given the circumstances of the world that we live in. So I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more patient-centricity. Number one. And I think that COVID has accelerated that, in many ways, a lot of, a lot of slow moving multinational companies in the health space that kind of had some distant vision for digital health and for patient or consumer facing software, have really accelerated the timelines on that, given what’s happening with with COVID. Because everybody, I think, is on the same page now that we need to expand our footprint in the digital health space. So there’s been a flurry of acquisitions in digital health since you know, early this year, in large part because of that, and I think that’s the market signaling to the world, you know, this is going to become a more meaningful part of the healthcare experience moving forward.
Andy Halko 37:25
Yeah, that’s awesome. I am, you know, one of the other insights that I have about your space, from clients, and even that pitch competition that I had been part of was, you know, selling into healthcare and selling into hospitals, it’s a little bit different than selling sometimes into other businesses, or selling into the consumer market. I’m just kind of curious for those folks that maybe are looking at a business or a software solution for the healthcare market. You know, what, what was that experience like? What what maybe is different? And, you know, what insights might you have about that?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 38:03
It’s still going. A minute, so let me take a step back, right? So I was a founder, with no real background in the healthcare space, aside from being a patient. I didn’t have a lot of connections in healthcare. I didn’t know about, you know, healthcare, in terms of clinical workflows, in terms of the day to day of life in a hospital, I really didn’t know any of that stuff. So for me, it was doubly difficult, right? You see a lot of health care companies started by doctors, they might might have an in with a hospital, they can pilot there and stuff like that. So that that was a challenge for me, and for my co founder, because that those relationships just didn’t exist. I would say in healthcare, you really kind of have to wiggle your way in. Some hospitals these days, like really innovative ones might have innovation centers. They have even accelerators or incubators for startups where, you know, they can, they can join those. And they might be able to find a pilot site or an implementation ward or a unit through those. But most hospitals, most, most health systems don’t have setups like that. And what you need to do as a founder is find a champion. And what that means is basically finding somebody in a unit or, you know, in a health system that’s really excited about what you’re doing, that can maybe pilot in their own unit, maybe they can connect you with folks where you can get a pilot going, because what you’re trying to do as a health founder is get as much data as you can just to show that there’s a return here. And that could mean different things that could be maybe a financial return. It could be you know, an improvement in patient experience. It could be clinical efficiency, it what it means isn’t important, but what you need is data. You need case studies, and that’s that’s your number one selling tool in the health space.
Andy Halko 39:52
What were the different roles that you ended up having to deal with? Did you have to deal with, you know, physicians and health care providers as well. As well as IT and unit, you know, business folks, or just what kind of roles and how did that impact the approach that you took?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 40:12
Yeah, so I mean, we and I specifically interacted with everybody, you know, from from nurses and physicians on the front line to boards and CEOs and CFOs, we kind of took a top down bottom up approach where, you know, we would want to speak to folks higher up in the hospital on the administrative side, because we’d like to get their buy in. But it’s very important to acknowledge that even if you have buy in from senior leadership, if the clinical frontline staff aren’t buying what you’re trying to implement, doesn’t matter, because you’re not going to succeed. They’re the ones that ultimately either use the tool or solution or deliver the tool or solution. And if you have a messy implementation process, despite the CEO and the board saying this is great, you’re going to fail. So we went bottom up while going top down, really focusing on implementation really focusing on client success, making sure that the process from going without CoHealth to CoHealth was as seamless as it could have been. And, and that means doing things in many cases that don’t really scale, but are necessary to get your footprint in the door with a health system. I just want to say one thing about it. And because I think it’s important, you know, I love my IT folks. But I think I think in the healthcare context, for founders, they’re definitely a bit of a blocker. So what I mean by that is, you know, you go to a large health system, they have an IT team, typically, and and they think that they can typically build everything. They can do it themselves, or this is on the roadmap, or this is a part of, you know, their electronic medical record integration, roadmap, stuff like that. And we tried to do everything that we could to stay as clear from IT as possible. We just, we wanted nothing to do with them. We wanted to focus all of our efforts on the clinical side on the administrative teams to basically show them this is good for patients. Because our experience with IT was that it they just raise more problems typically, no offense to any IT people watching this.
Andy Halko 42:11
Now, and yeah, we probably have a few. But it’s funny you say that, I think in most industries that I found IT. I mean, I do think part of their role in a lot of cases is to be that, you know, gate to how is this going to work with security, how’s it’s going to work with our other platforms? So it’s funny that you say that, that I think that in many of the customers we deal with it is IT that ends up being a you know, difficult decision, you know, influencer in the process.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 42:43
For sure. And I mean, look, there needs to be checks and balances, when you’re dealing in high risk industries, like healthcare or banking, right? They want to make sure that you’re implementing something that’s going to be good for the system and good for their patients and not, not damage anything like it makes sense. But you just have to be very careful that you can get looped into conversations and just privacy impact assessments that take 6,12,18 months, and no revenue. So when you’re an early stage company, or you’re, you know, a SaaS founder, you need to make sure that you’re pursuing revenue as quickly as possible and having conversations with the people that can unlock that value for you.
Andy Halko 43:25
And a curiosity to in this front of talking about like customers, you know, what were your biggest challenges or barriers to finding the first customers that would take on your product?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 43:38
Yeah, I think honestly, I think the biggest challenge was, was ourselves like, I think it was imposter syndrome a little bit seriously, like, we, we were pitching our first hospitals with a product that didn’t exist. So we were selling them on, basically mock ups and screenshots of a product that was in development that we couldn’t demo yet. So we would say, you know, hey, we’re going to be planning for implementation in a couple months. They would buy in, you know, we would get an invoice or send it an invoice we’d close our that our first couple clients. And they would think that we were prepping for implementation, but really, we were scrambling to just get the product ready for getting. So getting getting over that imposter syndrome, where we were basically saying to ourselves, Is this okay? Like, are we doing the right thing? Is this is this fine? Is this normal? I think that was a really big challenge in our own minds to get over.
Andy Halko 44:31
It’s funny you say that. I mean, I over the years, I have met a lot of software companies that have done that, you know, and I know a really large software business that we consult with, and, you know, they’ll kind of create fake features with mockups, take those out to their clients and kind of pitch them as a new feature that they have. And then once the clients want them that’s, you know, scramble to try and actually make it work. So it’s interesting that you say that because I’ve seen that many, many times is, and that’s really the validation process, right? Whether you’re early in a product or you’re later stage and you’re talking about new features, that’s just validating ideas.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 45:18
Yeah. And I completely agree. I mean, there’s there’s nothing better than knowing somebody’s going to pay for something and is committed to paying for it before you build it, right? Like that demonstrates a clear conviction in the value of the product and clear commitment on the client side that you know, you’re going to have capital coming in and exchange for building this out. So you know, it’s something that I know some founders do, but when I was doing it for the first time, it was very nerve-wracking. Hmm.
Tony Zayas 45:49
So just shifting gears a little bit. Tell us about Pequity and your role there. I’m curious to hear what Pequity he’s all about. Sounds pretty interesting.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 45:57
Yeah. Yeah. So Pequity was founded in January of this year by Warren Lebovics and Kaitlyn Knopp. So Warren is a longtime friend of mine. We’ve been working together for 10 year, or we known each other out there for 10 years. We were roommates together in college, we did a couple fun side-projects together, we were building like a web app for his mom, who’s an author of a children’s novel children, children books. So we’ve just done some fun stuff like that. We’ve been friends literally forever. And he, you know, and he and his wife, Caitlin started this company, because Caitlin has about 10 years of experience in the compensation sector, leading compensation teams at Google and Instacart, and Cruise and you know, a bunch of other amazing companies. And what she was realizing was that all these compensation teams were running the comp process at spreadsheets. So they were basically looking at market data that they are getting that in many cases, you know, is either inaccurate or at a date. They’re building compensation bands for their companies where they’re basically saying, Okay, how much do we pay this person and this geography at this level of this level of experience. And that process basically has to be done every single year, because that there’s new data or data is out of date. And it takes a lot of time, takes a lot of money. So what Caitlin realized was that there must be a better way. And Warren comes from a product background, having led product and design teams at companies like LinkedIn, and Sony. So she basically went to the living room and said to her husband, hey, we should do this. And starting in January, earlier this year, I was still working on CoHealth. I was doing some part time, you know, advisory work with them, his friends, just helping out and realized that I really like working with them. And as things came to a conclusion with CoHealth, and we, you know, had the company acquired, we started having some conversations about actually doing this together full time. So we, this week actually announced that I’m going to be joining the leadership team full time as Head of Ops and Legal and helping Kaitlyn and Warren turn Pequity into a powerhouse. I’m really excited about it.
Tony Zayas 48:15
That’s awesome. Very exciting congrats.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 48:18
Thank you. Yeah, it’s really, really fun to be working with longtime friends. It’s not something that you know, most people get to do often. So I’m really excited about it.
Andy Halko 48:30
Are you? How do you feel about the transition emotionally of going from something you know, and again, and I’m kind of asking in the context of most founders. I know their products become their babies and their you know, the companies become their baby so emotionally, that leaving of CoHealth going to something new that can feel like a new relationship and new baby, but tell me how your emotion has been through kind of the last couple weeks to now and…
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 49:02
yeah, yeah, so I mean, Pequity was my baby. Like, let’s be clear, like I basically treated it like a child.
Andy Halko 49:10
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 49:10
Andy Halko 49:11
You’re already switching mentally. Yeah,
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 49:14
Like it was right? And you know, it like I said, it has the same needs as a baby like, it needs to be fed, it needs revenue, right? It has emotions, it kicks and screams, you know, maybe a client’s having an issue like. It has all those things that just raising a normal kid has. So, you know, despite the end result being something that I think, you know, I was satisfied with. It was a bit emotional for me. It was emotional. And if you ask like my, my co founder, Cory, or any of our investors, I think that they would say the same thing. Like it was an emotional experience for me. But coming on to, you know, Pequity with Warren and Caitlin. You know, I joining the leadership team with them as friends of mine. It really feels like this is also my baby. I was, was I there from the, from the very beginning with them? Yes, right. They’re the founders. They’re the two founders. And they’re in the driver’s seat, and I’m there to help them and make sure that this succeeds. But I still have that same level of emotional attachment to this, because I’ve joined from such an early stage.
Andy Halko 50:19
Yeah, it’s great. What? What has you most excited about this next chapter with them?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 50:26
I mean, I’ve already said that working with friends is great. Like, I love it. They’re just great people. So I’m really excited about that. But, you know, we’ve been at this for less than a year. And some of the folks that have already signed on to use this tool are really, really awesome people and awesome companies like, you know, Instacart, which we’re really excited about is one of our first clients. And you know, we through Kaitlyn’s experience in the compensation field, we know that there’s a huge need for this across all of compensation. And using this as an opportunity to get our feet wet in the common HR sectors is something that we’re really excited about. We have a lot of really exciting features coming down the pipeline, that’s going to add a lot of value to HR and compensation teams at scale. And with Kaitlyn at the helm of this, given her experience in the field, you know, we really have clear line of sight into what we need to do to scale this thing into a behemoth. And we’re really excited about it.
Andy Halko 51:24
It’s cool. Since you’ve been in the startup space before, is there anything, one thing? You know, one thing that you’re kind of walking in the door saying like I want to do this differently? Or I want the company to do this differently than what I did at CoHealth?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 51:41
Hundred percent yeah. I would say the biggest thing that’s top of mind for me, is thinking about yourself as a startup. So I think that a lot of founders, me included, because I did this CoHealth. They call themselves a startup. And by identifying as a startup and referring to yourself as a startup, in your own mind, and also just when you’re when you’re talking to your team internally, I think it kind of acts as kind of a cop out in some ways, because by calling yourself a startup, you’re basically saying, Oh, well, you know, it’s okay, that we don’t have that process defined yet, or, you know, we’re really early stage or it basically portrays this image, like you’re not a real company yet. And I think, by not treating yourself with the same, I don’t know if seriousness is the right word, but the same level of seriousness that, you know, a larger company would, you’re, you’re not being as effective as you could be, because you’re basically giving yourself a cop out to, you know, not put in the extra effort or to not define that process, because you’re a startup, so when… Since I joined Pequity from day one, you know, Warren and Kaitlyn and I have talked about this a lot. You know, we think of ourselves as a company, right? We don’t refer to ourselves, at least in our own internal meetings as a start up? Because that tells our team that, you know, it’s okay, if we screw up or it’s okay, if this feature isn’t in the best state for a client or something like that. Not that that happens, but we want to make sure that we’re operating at like, 100%, full steam every single day. And there isn’t room, you know, for, for us to be at 99%. And I think that by not identifying as a startup, you kind of engender that that level of credibility and seriousness where everybody starts realizing, okay, like, this is a real thing, we got to start taking this seriously. So that mentality shift is something I’ve definitely brought with me from CoHealth to Pequity.
Andy Halko 53:39
I found that’s such an intriguing insight.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 53:42
Important, I learned it the hard way, I think, in some ways, but I but it’s an important shift in mentality.
Andy Halko 53:49
So how do you get over that barrier in a start up in some ways, because there are a lot of things that still need figured out. There are, you know, long to do lists. And yeah, I totally agree. I think that that’s so interesting of that being an easy cop out to say, well, this isn’t done because of x. Yeah. But are you balanced that because in most startups that I know, on the other side, though, there’s a long to do list and you have to prioritize, you can’t have everything and you can’t have everything done. So where do you you know, having that insight going in the, your your new business and your new role? How do you think you can find that balance? Because it’s never going to be perfect?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 54:32
Yeah, I think it really just comes down to ruthless prioritization, right? Like most, most companies, especially earlier stage startups. They want to say yes to every opportunity, because it’s exciting, and it’s money and it’s great and money’s great, and that gives the company lifeblood to make it to the next month. But that can result in death by 1000 cuts, right? If your product being pulled in 50 different directions because you’ve said yes to so many different opportunities that can kill you. Right and then many of the alluring opportunities for me and for my co founder, Cory, where there was money that was put in front of us or money that was dangled in front of us by a potential client or a prospect. And, you know, we wanted to chase it, but we didn’t because it wasn’t on path with our roadmap in our vision. And I think that that that level of ruthless prioritization, from the standpoint of a founder is just what hundred percent needed to get the company, you know, from the ground, to the next step.
Andy Halko 55:27
I’m totally going to steal the ‘Ruthless Prioritization’ term. I like that a lot. I don’t know if you heard that somewhere or if you made it up, but that’s a good one. I like that. The way it’s said.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 55:41
Yeah, and I just think it’s, it’s really important, because it’s very easy to want to do everything. I used to say to Cory, right? Like, I’m, he was the the complete optimist, always 100% positive. I’m more on the cynical side. So I would say to him, I would say, you know, it’s the most important thing that we can say is no, because saying no is harder. But more often than not, it allows us to focus on our core competencies and do what we need to do.
Andy Halko 56:12
Yeah, I’m a big fan. You know, when we work with clients, we do things like looking at retention of users, and roadmap and stuff like that, and just even simply putting, like a number two, what’s the impact to our customer base? What’s the impact of other things that we’re doing? What’s the cost? What’s the, you know, time that it’s going to take? And even if you rank those from one to 10, and as you’re going through, it gives you some level of priority prioritization to it. For sure. You know, I’ve personally liked bringing, like, a logical process to trying to rank different things that can help get you to that, you know, at least a limited list.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 56:54
Yeah, a framework that I’ve used is basically identical to what you just said, Andy. So ranking in terms of complexity in terms of cost, and in terms of value add, right? Like, and, and just just measuring, just using simple numbers, right? Like, if this is going to be a high impact, high yield investment, then maybe it’s worth doing, right? If it’s a high yield, high impact investment that takes very limited time, capital and energy to do, then it’s a no brainer, but mapping that out with your team. Right. And understanding from a product standpoint, what those easy wins low hanging fruit are, can really make a big difference.
Andy Halko 57:32
yeah, we’ve always physician, you know, is from a value impact standpoint, 1x, 2x, 10x, you know, if you’re, if you’re doing something that’s going to make a 10x difference in your business, you know, you really want to look at those as a high priority.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 57:49
Yeah. And getting feedback from your clients like continuously, right? Like if you, if you factor that in, and you say, Hey, will you pay for this? Oh, really interesting. Like, let’s, let’s talk about how this adds value for you. Right, that can that can help you better understand how big of an opportunity you’re dealing with in terms of your roadmap.
Tony Zayas 58:08
It’s great. Awesome.
Andy Halko 58:12
Well, I have one last question are, are Canadians funnier?
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 58:18
Are we funnier? I would say, uh, I would think so. I mean, we have Drake. We have Drake, and he’s, he’s pretty funny.
Andy Halko 58:26
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 58:27
you watch him on Instagram. He’s good.
Andy Halko 58:30
I just, that’s what I need. That’s what I always hear. So just wanted to find out.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 58:36
I mean, I’d like we’re pretty funny people generally. I would say this on the hockey rink. I don’t I think I think we’re a little bit more serious when it comes to putting on gloves.
Andy Halko 58:46
I you know, I actually have been up to Toronto playing hockey before because I played all through high school and college and Sunday. That’s the only time I actually been up there. So the only thing I know Toronto is like an ice rink. Pretty much. The only thing that I’ve had exposure to
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 59:03
well, when you can, you should definitely come back. It’s a great city. I love Toronto. It’s a good home.
Andy Halko 59:09
Tony Zayas 59:11
Awesome. Well, thank you so much Zack, this has been fantastic. We appreciate you taking the time for everybody that’s watching. Stay tuned and see what Zack is up to with Pequity. Take a look at CoHealth and see where that company continues to go. And again, thanks again, Zack. We appreciate your time, and we will see everybody next time.
Zack Fisch-Rothbart 59:34
Thanks for having me.
Andy Halko 59:35
Awesome. Thanks Zack. Bye