In today’s episode of The Room Podcast, we open the door to the rapidly evolving digital health landscape with founder and CEO of Sitka, Kelsey Mellard. Kelsey took an untraditional path into being a venture-backed founder. She started her career in the public sector working for the US Department of Health and Human Services. This was the year 2010, and she saw first hand the implementation of what today we all know as Obamacare. After a stint in the private sector insurance space with United Health, she went on to lead partnerships at Honor, a software and network which provides non-medical home care services to families in more than 800 cities and towns across the United States. This is where she saw the need for a more efficient and effective primary care provider network which can help you get a specialist’s opinion on things like that knee tear or throat strain, in days rather than weeks or even month. Enter Sitka, a telemedicine platform which works direction with your primary care doctor and specialists across the country to accelerate your time to diagnosis. Since launching in 2017, Kelsey has raised from hallmark venture firms like First Round Capital, Venrock, and Homebrew. In today’s episode, we discuss insights and themes such as applying private sector innovation to the public sector, how to unlock your go-to-market within heavily regulated industries, and navigating personal health milestones, such as pregnancy, while being an entrepreneur. Let’s open the door.
Key Theme 1: Applying Private Sector Innovation to the Public Sector
Out of undergrad, Kelsey went to work for the Obama administration where she started off at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, where she was employee number five! She described this as a startup within the federal government. Like any start-up, they were hiring, figuring out their North Star, and learning to engage with stakeholders across the country. This did come with a unique set of external pressures such as questions from Congress and challenges from The White House. While she and her team were empowered with the scale and scope of the federal government, they were iteratively trying to redefine access to healthcare.
tldr — No matter where you begin your career — you can find ways to be entrepreneurial and innovative.
Key Theme 2: How to Unlock your Go-to-Market within Heavily Regulated Industries
Unlike traditional SAAS Go-To-Market, Healthcare often requires a delicate touch. Most importantly because you’re often dealing with patient health and wellbeing; but also because naturally the industry is regulated to protect the rights of doctors and patients. This has caused sometimes unnecessary red tape for innovators, looking to evolve the way much of healthcare is done today. A part of the challenge in the ecosystem which has caused red-tape in the past for other start-ups is state-by-state regulation and approval for a care-giver to provide care in that given state. This is still the case, even in the world of telemedicine. It is often a myriad of factors that causes this, one being insurance is handled often at the state-level. Sitka has cleverly worked around that challenge, by dealing entirely with “doctor-doctor” communication, rather than “doctor-patient.” Kelsey explains,
“In our case, we get to practice medicine across state lines because we’re not creating a doctor patient relationship. And so it’s been a massive scaling opportunity for us…And this really goes back to that I understand the legislation really well because I was there writing some of the rules. [When] The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services did change their policy on what a peer-to-peer consult could be, we were able to jump on that based on where we were in the development of our business, and actually bring that to life with all of our partners.”
tldr — When building in the healthcare industry, regulation change is unique “why now?” opportunity for your business. As a founder in the space, look to have a team member who can deeply understand policy. In turn, this understanding of where policy is or is not going, may be an unlock for scale and could be a massive differentiator in your ability to build your business.
Key Theme 3: Navigating Personal Health Milestones, such as pregnancy, as a Founder and/or CEO
Kelsey shared openly with our community and earlier this year on TechCrunch, about her experience having her first child while being a venture-backed CEO. This isn’t the first time we’ve touched on this topic on the podcast. Kelsey told the story of how she told both her male investors about her family news when she found out she was expecting. She was grateful for their support and how it didn’t phase them. She also took a step back to acknowledge why she had been nervous to tell them, and why she wish she hadn’t been! Kelsey reflected,
“It’s also on us as women to just own it, to be like, I’m having a baby. There’s no headline here. The business is great. I will be back. Here’s the plan and we’re going forth. I would love to see us own it differently too… I get it. We are trained historically to dance around it… but the times are changing.”
tldr — Whether it’s pregnancy, surgery, or another personal moment, Kelsey is a wonderful example of normalizing sharing your humanity while running a venture-backed company. With the right game-plan and support system around both your home team and your work team, any founder be set up for success amidst an admittedly high stress role. Read more on Kelsey’s experience here.
We hope you enjoyed hearing from Kelsey Mellard as much as we did! For more this episode, sign up for our newsletter at TheRoomPodcast.com/Newsletter
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