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Starting Zocdoc with Oliver Kharraz
"Oliver Karaz was born and raised in Germany mostly in rural parts of the country his mother was German and his father was from Iran in came from a long line of doctors. For me, it really starts in some ways with my dad and. The timing rapidly had every reason to become a social activist and and so he came to Germany from the Middle East when he was very young around twenty with no money in his pocket no language skills. And you personally then worked on of odd jobs, but he eventually became a psychiatrist but what has really shaped me much more than being born in Berlin is. Social. Active. Isn't that I that I saw him live and that he really made our family mattress we always talked about talent responsibility and the need to use. Whatever telling behind to help those. Around us that we can make a difference. Given that your father was Iranian and your mother was was sort of. German. An Uber even though you were born in Germany, did you feel did you feel as Germany everybody else? So I didn't have a second identity. We only used spoke German at home and yet. As you say I was also a not always fully accepted. So if I give you an example, my school twelve hundred students and you could pick out to the didn't look like everyone else and I was one of them right and even an enlightened country like Germany. That is notable. So I had what I call a visual accent would people would see me on the street and they would ask me how to speak German. So well and But they also school the skipped my name when reading out scores because they weren't sure how to pronounce my last name and opportunities taken away and even at was physically threatened so i. I think that really shaping in many ways because I realized. Very early that in order to be as successful as everyone around me I would have to be dramatically better in really work much much harder than anyone else and so that used to be strong work ethic in me. For the record Oliver is somewhat down playing his work ethic. Because just out of high school, he actually started his first successful company. It was the early clunky days of the Internet, and he designed a way to help people send emails more easily and he wound up selling that business not for a ton of money, but enough to get him through medical school. But. After practicing medicine for a couple years Oliver realized he couldn't stop thinking about that first business he'd started and how he wanted to start another. So he quit his job in medicine and consulting job with Mackenzie and eventually moved to New York. That was my goal was actually to start another company that that's A. Healthcare, but I I'd also realized at the time that I sold my first company and far too cheaply in that I should learn more about business I and at McKinsey God exposure to balance sheets and panels and hit a lot of very practical experience and what it means to manage business. And I think they fondly of my time at McKinsey was one of my better decisions. McKinsey GonNa Mackenzie is a little bit like going to business school. A lot of people at McKinsey have come from business, schools. In that. Many people go to business school thinking they will find a co-founder. Did you were you actively looking around at your colleagues to think maybe I can do something with him or her you know maybe that person. Absolutely and were you just thinking about different business ideas all the time? Well, it is actually very hard to find good ideas and my definition of a good idea was that it needed to have a great mission I. wanted to make sure that we actually do something good in that. We stayed true to sort of talent breaks responsibility, but also wanted to be a large market and to have a great motor rounded and also I wanted to be based on contrarian inside. Because I thought that all of the best companies have that at its core. While she wanted mission, you wanted a company that could kind of dominate its field by building a motor around it, but was also contrary and that's that's that's those are some interesting. Criteria. And that's why I screen for several years rejected pretty much every idea that that I came across And meanwhile. While you're going through all that I guess you meet this guy Cyrus Masumi. WHO's another McKenzie consultant and and just you just. Become friends like he's like somebody like in and you guys start hanging out. While we got put on study together that required us to travel globally and you've ever done that it meant frost were sixteen eighteen hour days together for three four, five months on end and we really. Got To become great partners in that and and what we realized that we had some. Very complementary skills. Cyrus is one of the most charismatic and gregarious individuals. You'd ever meet his very passionate. He could be more forceful, which sometimes was needed to be effective with clients. And you've talked to me now for a little bit as you can probably tell. More dispassionate and logical and more measuring. German? More, German in many ways, right. also was effective with clients by by. and Cyrus is American right? He's American this but that That close listened and how we work together that really started friendship and we stayed close for the study and be caught up over lunch pretty regularly denounce different business ideas off one another and. I think we connected because we had similar interests because. On. Some levels We were equally passionate about what we're doing higher says, passion was more visible to others than mine but we. Were close enough together that we both accepted. The other as. individual that that we could learn a lot from. Was it was it clear pretty soon after you start hanging out, Sarah's that this was the guy because you were. You're on the lookout for a partner. They I think it was was absolutely an option I know reality is that. With. Both founded companies before Mckinsey and we both knew that we wanna do it again and as I. was always great about being. Very honest. Rather than just nice and and I value that a lot. Yeah. All, right. So So this guy, Cyrus Super Charismatic, really smart clearly, the two of you start to to work together. And what what kind of business ideas are are you coming up with? While we kind of fell in love with a new idea that came about a one of these launches were Cyrus. Told me about how he recently ruptured his eardrum by flying with a cold and then found it very difficult to actually find a doctor and he had asked for recommendations and called down his insurance directory listing started with the as. Doctors weren't accepting new patients some no longer accepted two centurions one provider Pasta Way and so he said, well, why does it take four days to the doctor when I'm in pain right? And why can't this much easier? And we. Both very quickly. realized the potential of this idea from. Working at project be new helps us the for actually spending millions of dollars for marketing to grow their patient base because they had wasted inventory, right they had something that I like to call hidden supply, which is these last minute cancellations no-shows reschedules. That the that go to waste, and then on the other, there are the patients who had a hard time accessing this. You thought it immediately clicked with these my God. Yes. Doctor's appointments connect patients to doctors. Yeah. Well, look if you go through the forfeiture that I had read, it's a great mission right? We're making one of the most personal needs more accessible for for patients we can help patients to get in fast we can help the doctors become more efficient. We can make the entire health care system more cost effective people out of the emergency room things like that, and it's a marketplace. So there is a strong mode and clearly anything in healthcare is a large market and I think the contrary and inside that we had. was. The fact that. Most people thought it's normal that people have to wait twenty four days to a doctor because there's a doctor shortage in read our inside was really no doctors have asthma debate ability because of these last minute cancellations, no-shows reschedules and so I felt very about this idea. So. So you member like how long between the time that the you had that first conversation To the time were both you said, let's start this business was like monster or weeks or days. was was weeks. We what we what we started doing is actually. Mocking up the side in how imagine back then in powerpoint pointing just the wire. Website. Yeah. Wire frame. Exactly. We would. We'd go into starbucks and we'll chat up strangers and say, Hey, here's a five dollar gift card. Give me your thoughts. Sorry I'm GonNa. Go back. You just go to people in starbucks Gift Card and say, can you give me your thoughts? Random Person? The absolutely that's that was sort of our market testing. They wouldn't. They would be like excuse me this is a little weird. You're my space. Might also happen from time to time but you know there's lots of people on starbucks is very in German of you. That's debris because usually he would be to report tentative about doing that. Well, you know I think there was a lot less rejection than you think people actually quite open I. Suggest you try this out but if you If you're unthreatening in Luke harmless as we probably dead and then they'll be pretty open. You went up to and starbucks and you'd say, Hey, we're thinking about a company here. Can you just look at his powerpoint give you five dollars Gift Card and what was in the powerpoint, the popcorn and was just what we thought. This website would look like and we would ask them is the set service that resonates with you would you use it and and we got an incredibly valuable feedback here and really set us in many ways on the on the right track right? So and what pointed to the two of you decide let's quit McKinsey. Let's. Let's pursue this. Probably a month or two after we initially discussed idea did anybody say you were crazy for quitting? Everyone. Everyone told us. Crazy and got a lot of negative feedback on the idea to write people would say this is Bloomberg out I would never pick my doctor on the internet or I already have a doctor or you know doctors wouldn't accept patients that that are looking on the Internet of all kinds of protections that people had when they were thinking about their own situation by. When when you talk to people and starbucks, they actually thought about it much more positively. So we were encouraged enough to say, well, this is going to work as long as we get out of our circle and don't ask McKinsey consultants doctors. The responsible be better. All right. So you are in your thirties at this point. And presumably were making pretty good cash at McKinsey because you were probably you'd know expenses you're on the road all the time so. When you quit, I'm assuming you had some money to launch the business and probably live off for a while. Yeah. So I very deliberately had never raised my living standard to the money that the paying McKinsey and I had saved every dime so that I could. No be in a position where can fund this embraced can afford not to take a salary for a couple of years. Wow. So so a couple of hundred thousand and you saved. You know. Maybe. I'm to Germany to discuss personal finances but. I had. Built this. Radio, you can tell the. Story Yeah I I had I had enough money to live off for for several years but I also Saturday night both finance the company early out of our own savings so that clearly diminish We had leftover after that. So now, you both decided to quit. and. You have some technical expertise because you had. You had done some coding but this is next level stuff. Were you able to be that technology founder and Cyrus was going to be the the sort of the business founder? Absolutely not as I add coated but at that point, I had not touched a computer for a long time We knew we need to have a technical co founder and so Sarah's knew a guy named Nick Guanzhou from the time together, trophy software, and this is another company that they would both worked at the that's the company that they're both previously worked together and Nick just brought a totally different perspective and really educated Addison me on a lot of things and and he was really the one who understood a building a seamless experience for the consumer and ends May. Zach Docs. Early Genius, did you did you have the name dock from the beginning? Not, not initially we we went to several phases on on what the right name could be for for while we wanted to have a descriptive name. So we looked at physicians, dot Com Doctors Dot Com, and we actually tracked down the owners of one of these domains and they wanted several million dollars for the domain name. And and we were finding the company ourselves. So that was out of the question. So then we just sat in a room and we brainstorm a list of fifty or one hundred names, and then started eliminating names until we arrived at Dr. What does it mean? or it doesn't mean anything which was the WTO bit we could. There were zero search results. Okay. There's no meaning behind his ACH. There's no meaning behind and and in hindsight it was precisely the right thing to do because it really was a blank slate for us to fill with with meaning and really build a brand around. Zero such as October we started. It address nate the right lake once you know that it takes more than three weeks from picking up the phone and dialing for doctors till you actually see someone you realize Oh, this really not much else that we have to wait so long for to get. And this is more important than most of these other things you already have. Fantastic access View Magin. If air travel way that healthcare workers that wouldn't be an expedia that wouldn't even be Delta Dot Com that would be individual phone numbers for every plane. Imagine. If that happened, you know a half the planes would fly empty it would be a massive pain and that was actually the state of health care before sock. Is Amazing that that the nothing like this was out there in two thousand seven. I look at I. Think. In many ways you couldn't build it a much earlier. In the early days. When we went out there, we were the ones installing Internet of the doctor's offices. We. They they were a many times just migrating from a paper books to scheduling systems. We were at the cusp of digitisation for healthcare. We were just lucky in our timing to get this right in and start offering the service when that also happened. All right. So you decide to pursue Zach dock and it's the three of you. I'm assuming really just at the beginning and were you working out of out of one of your apartments? Did you guys rent space? No, we worked out of respect for. Many. Times we came to make yet the nicest apartment and and we could bring breakfast Burrito and bake him up and you know the the reality is that we originally had a pretty ambitious launch plan right so we got together around July. We wanted to launch by December of two, thousand seven. Something interesting happened were nick send an email suggesting to look at what was then called techcrunch forty. Take is is now a household name but the draw for us back then was there was a fifty thousand dollar prize now it's called tech crunch disrupt think. So it's a major a startup competition. It's a startup competition and we were the first class of this was much less known be budgeted two hours to fill in the application in really which will send it off. He didn't think about it anymore that there was an early July and early August we've heard that we had been accepted, but there was a complication we'd have to be ready by September eighteenth or. That was three months sooner than we had originally planned to launch. So you'd have a live website by September that is right that is right with doctors with doctors, right So we actually debated for a few hours whether we should even tried to go for that but we ultimately said, yes, we can get the website working and we wanted to have enough doctors just a bars wouldn't look pathetic. Brayden. Coded Night Neither Day and nick really busted his but he did the patient facing side of the website and that was the programs. What was potentially even harder because we're tried to launch a marketplace was to actually get the initial supply on there and remember the website wasn't there yet so. Tires ended up going door to door for doctors offices. Excuse telling them a powerpoint page, and this is really a testament to cyrus sheer willing determination if you think about what it means to really start a company early on, there's nothing to show right you may be a powerpoint but there's no website there's no patience. There's no other doctors no social proof and it has to run on passion and very clear that that is Cyrus superpower. He just went to random doctors offices or he had like a list of doctors offices and he started kind of walking block by block. Well, there's a lot of walking involved a we launched in Manhattan so you can literally go down the street and you see. The signs and you walk in. And he was basically saying look, it's a way to connect you to patients. How was how many by the way? What was your objective? How many doctors do you need to sign up to have this website look okay by September Between six and ten was our goal. Okay. So just doable it is a was extremely hard really. Is telling doctors is one of the hardest things to do why were they saying? Well, first of all, it is baby very hard to even speak to a doctor they are being shielded. Their time is very valuable. Office managers are trained not to let anyone talk to them to protect the doctor from people walking in selling them stuff shirt them. Secondly, they many didn't want to give up control over their calendar which has to write. We ask them to post times that a patient could book into it and it was just a far fetched idea for many of them the patients would actually do this. So he got a lot of knows he got a lot of knows. He'd go there and he just simply not leave until he got a chance to speak to the doctor and a few times. It was even escorted out by security. I really think one in a million could have put this off. I mean was he going to particular kinds of doctors or was he generally focused on an Internet general? Practitioners Ob sobe began with dentists Okay. Because our thinking was that. People go to dentists most often, and we wanted to make sure that we have an offering that is relevant for patients as often as possible. I. Got you so so eventually unassuming, you do get what six to ten or how many did you get by September of two thousand seven Eight. In the meantime, you inequity doing the back end stuff you were doing the coding and building the website does right and as you were building it. How did it look? So. The bit that Nick Build looked awesome for the time I think. It was impressive. We were. Very. Satisfied that we had a scroll bar that we had a map that we had back then already the insurance selector and a lot of feature that. Weren't to be found really anywhere else. All right. So September two, thousand, seven, you are ready to reveal. This service at. Tech. Crunch. And Doth Review present or did did Cyrus kind of wishy the spokesperson? Cyrus. I presented Nick stayed behind in New York to make sure that the less the website was actually up and running This is in San Francisco that you went to the we flew out to San Francisco and So we lost sock talk in front of Eight, nine, hundred people. A lot of them were journalists when the judges opened up with feedback guy covers ocoee who we newnan in valued. As embezzles forever apple he came out to said he he didn't get it. He would never use this in front of everyone right and. His direct load something like honestly Oh, it just never occurred to me to go to any doctor that's really burned in in my brain and what was worse is that he seemed to be right we didn't get a single booking. We were hoping that this PR would get us out of our initial batch of users, right because your other. So many tech journalists there. So you know the publicity may be would would would lead to bookings and that was the hope but. It actually took three days before regard our first legitimate a patient, and and in the entire first month, we only got five bookings. You come back from San Francisco and. You know you had Guy Kawasaki. Say I don't I would never use this service? I'm sure he feels differently today but man maybe then Ezio said that but did did you come back feeling like like dejected like losers or or were you excited like how did you feel coming back? While you know I think we obviously hoping we would eventually get more bookings and In the beginning you probably refreshed. The Bookings Report Hundred Times a day by as we were thinking through what we realized. It was really a typical two sided marketplace challenge It's just a classic chicken and egg problem. You need the supply to get the demand and you need the demand to entice them supply and for dark was even trickier. Right when you think about it, healthcare is hyper local. Very complicated. So you have to match. Supply and demand on a Zip code specialty level, and then we have thousands of insurances take. Until we realized that our odds of actually finding a patient that wanted. An offer there. Quite low, and so the best path forward was to methodically build up supply, and so we just kept going put up a huge map of Manhattan on the wall, and then a sleep put little flags on of where the doctor's brother we're on the website in which insurance is accepted and we just we knew the perseverance. Is the name of the game. Back in just a moment how oliver and Cyrus Begin to drum up interest in stock and how they even start to raise some money at figure out how to dress differently, stay with us guy rows and you're listening to how I built this from NPR. Hey everyone. Just a quick thanks to our sponsors who helped make this podcast possible I to epic provision maker of epic bar beef was nature's idea the epic bar was. 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A lot of their offices especially back in two, thousand, seven or sort of technologically in the Stone Age. There was incredibly complicated to sink the doctors calendars with ours. Because none of the software was actually made to sink. Were even in the places where we had syncs up and running, we would frequently get. Feedback while the punishment didn't happen because the doctor wasn't available and we really couldn't figure out why this was the case because when we did screen chairs with the office to their calendar and and our calendar, it was identical right and couldn't figure out why that's happening. So I decided to sit next to the office manager I went there and got to know him and his family photos of his dog. I fixed the printer taught a better strategies to play minesweeper still couldn't figure it out. Until one day, the doctor would come out and she'd say, Hey David I'm out next Friday. And then what does David do does he go into the calendar and block out next Friday or does he take a post? It note On a doctor out next Friday and sticks this too is monitor. In the real world. These post it notes, of course happen and but once you know that Matthew Friend, you can start filtering this out and that's one example they were literally a thousand point, one percent solutions that we had to figure out to make this work. Wow. That sounds I'm getting exhausted. Just hearing about that because this is like even like Google calendars, right? Yeah. Yeah. That was that was early days and what we were extremely focused around were making show the experience was fantastic. If something went wrong, we fix it. Right. So I was our customer service I personally would call the doctor and and confirmed the appointment was all said if it wasn't I, personally contact the patient to let them know and then I would offer them. Amazon Gift Card alongside with an apology those actually one case where it didn't catch a patient in time. and. The were in the subway to the doctor, and so I raised them to the doctor's office and picked up a bouquet of flowers on the way there and met them in person to apologize. And that was really a turning point burs. The service has to work and we need to be have this patients I attitude in in terms of how it works completely ingrained in the company. All right. So you clearly need to kind of grow this Were you offering this service doctors for free at the time? Initially. We for free by we eventually started charging fifty dollars per month. But Sam doctor you come into my office and you say, Hey, if you pay me I can bring you more customers. I would be skeptical I would've said to you you who whose, who even knows about you. You'RE GONNA you're asking me to pay you money for Phantom bookings for maybe no customers I mean did some of the doctors say Many. The US summarize our sales challenge. Right? It was very hard because even if you wanted to, we couldn't easily share how many patients their competitors are down the road God like that was something that was confidential. All right. So you are you got this chicken and egg problem. Not, enough people signing up and he gets skeptical doctors but you know that the service could really benefit the doctors, but you also need them to pay for because otherwise you know but business. Meantime at a certain point I'm assuming you guys start to think we'd better go out and look for money if we're going to really make this thing work. Yeah. Yeah. That that happened in the spring of two, thousand, eight we decided we raise series. And we we make the rounds we get in front of a number of the big name, BC New York the also go to Sandhill road in impel. Toho Santo Road we leads and road initially were very successful at all we got Polite knows. and. Ray No feedback control someone took us as I told us you know what the idea seems. Good. But you're consultants I'd and the perspective of its consultants can't get anything done and what realized is that even though we had both founded companies before our Mackenzie Pedigree in our keys and button down shirts, they were really hurting us, and so we wait rank Khakis and button down shirts. It sounds crazy. Were they pleaded pants or were they at least nine pleaded please. Yeah Yeah. Yeah we after hearing that feedback We very quickly just went to the next gap and bought jeans and t-shirts and from that on the combos with VC's when but a lot better. So you went from McKinsey consultant look to this are the tech casual uniform of jeans and t-shirts that that's exactly right and we introduced ourselves not as NBA's and McKinsey Consultants but we introduce ourselves previous entrepreneurs that are starting their next company. was was anyone biting? Were there people who were like? Yeah there's a great idea I'm in. So interesting enough we had raised some money from. Friends and colleagues, and many of those they invested in US business plan unseen just based on the fact that we. Were giving up our careers at McKinsey to pursue talks. So that felt really a great. and. As we started changing how we appeared in how we introduced ourselves to venture capitalists L., we started to get offers and so in August of two thousand eight, we ended up raising five million from KHOSLA ventures expeditions mark. Wow Mark Banya Jeff bezos, and Venus is. All their. Funds are in which sounds like a lot before you WanNa do it's actually. Kinda limited because you still it seems to me in two thousand eight even though you have five million dollars a lot of money you still have this problem which is you've gotta get. Customers, and then to get customers, you need lots of doctors had lots of options but to get doctors, you need lots of customers booking through the site to you do that precisely D- These five million dollars per lily earmarked for making New, York, work, right, Miguel, I market work but. immediately after raising the money the financial crisis hit. And You may remember there was rest in peace a memo that went around about startups, right? Yes. About start ups, never being able to raise money arrested in peace good times. So we got this job is to make the money stretch in. We probably learn not during this time This was really our first go round making hard choices and what I want to be frugal and not to do things we can't afford and We learned to not let money replace critical, thinking and creativity. But now we continued to grind away at New York and at some point felt while if you want to get. To the next level we have to prove. Dr Isn't just a New York City phenomenon. Right? We had to prove that it would work in a second city But at that point, we didn't have the money to do this anymore, and by the way you're still your approach was still the same. It was door to door. That's right door to door and how how you building awareness about the about the fact Zach existed with customers with potential customers. So we it was day very difficult to get someone. To the website. Yeah but when they did. They loved it because it was such a step change from how healthcare used to work for him. Right they used to have to pick up the phone and wait on hold and then plays scheduling. tetris. With the office manager, can you do Wednesday morning about Thursday noon? Friday afternoon, and now they could do the same thing in a minute and have complete overview about the ability patients loved it and they told their friends. So we we started to get word of mouth. Going, and so we saw New York really taking up and we felt like, okay, this does this go into work in New York. At a minimum rate, but we also realized that it took us a fair bit of time. And money to get it going. In New, York and do we couldn't with the money we had left from the five million easily expanded into a new city at the same time. Raising money was going to be difficult because the next generation of investors wanted to see that it works and other cities as Walter. So we were a little bit in this catch twenty, two we ended up. Applying to. Force boost Your Business Competition Four. Forbes has his competition as sell to where they give away money right to they were promising a hundred thousand dollar prize. And at this time. We won. And Yeah what did is they gave us one of these large publishers. Clearinghouse is sex and very useful actually used to cover a hole in one in our only conference room. There was a hole in the wall and we covered it with that. At, this point you are, you are working out of an office, not not an apartment at this point we were working out of A. Shared Office space we work. Yeah. So they had given us publisher clearing house is is check but they fail to give us the small check for three months and we were getting really nervous, but it would still get it but. But ultimately, we got that one hundred thousand dollars and that's what we used to launch and our second market in DC in Washington DC and would did it require you guys to move down there or were you did you hire because I'm assuming you had to? A lot of your early capital was going into sales. Business Development hiring sales reps, is that right? Right, we had a couple of sales reps at the time. A. Very first employee ever was a sales rep is still with the company today and He was great. He figured out how to. Really charm his way. To the doctor. So there were no more security guards escorting anyone out. When did you? I'm assuming that even in two, thousand, nine, two, thousand, ten, and beyond we're not yet profitable. Far From It? Yeah. Far from it right because it's a capital intensive business. Yes. We obviously invested heavily in customer service wanted patients to have a great experience. And we had a quite sizable engineering team because that was actually a major engineering effort. So what started to happen when did you start to kind of see? A real turning point. Yeah. So we we we had launched New, York successfully with. Years. Of hardwork, we've gotten it off the ground is transported that to DC at work well, in DC, and now he said, well, why are we not in more cities and so we actually we raised serious be with fouled respond and We used to expand off the East Coast Francisco then Chicago and we just got better better at it. So we then ended up raising serious and two thousand eleven from Goldman NTSC, and we primarily use this to grow our sales team and sign up more more doctors in from two thousand eleven till two thousand, thirteen, we launched roughly thirty new cities I read that by by two thousand, fourteen would covered. Like forty percent of markets in the US, which is huge I mean that's right I mean that's a huge number of cities. And in that year evaluation. Of tzakda. Past Billion Dollars I mean that's That's pretty remarkable i. mean you were kind of on this like really rapid trajectory and you a pretty straightforward model right and you were charging doctors a flat fee every year and then. They could take all the bookings they wanted and I think that by that point like by two thousand, fourteen knew it was not cheap. It was expensive viewed really raised the price it was like three thousand dollars a year, right? Something like that. Yes recharged Dr Three thousand dollars a year and and there was a flat fee. No matter. How many bookings Actually facilitated for them and and the reality was for some doctors that got a lot of bookings that was a great deal. Yeah. But but there were also doctors that God a lot fewer bookings and for them that fixed cost was actually too expensive and some of them were starting to leave the service, and so we got into a situation that required us to invest a lot to stay where we are and then invest even more to continually grow our overall provider base, which means we had to build out a massive sales team to always sign up more doctors right and. Some point during this time L. Nick actually ran an analysis showed that it would take several years if ever fries to make our money back on on many of the doctors we signed up because you would have to sign up. X number of hundreds of thousands of doctors paying that amount every year. To make your money back to to make sort of our the cost of the sales team back. Wow and L. it. This was pure that would make us dependent on external capital for our very long time, and now it's a clearly there are many companies that have taken. Grow fast at all costs approach. And They Held onto this forty extended period of time by L., it clearly puts talking to a dependency to. Investors in their mind says, yeah. So. Meantime. You know I I from what I understand. There's disagreements I mean there there are you know the leadership team including Cyrus he he's I. Think he's he's sort of his position as the flat fee model is actually the best way to go is that a fair assessment of of his position? Yeah. I think that's right. I. Mean there were two fundamentally divergent ways held the business could go forward right. One way was to continue to work on optimizing the unit economics of our subscription model and the other way was to think about how to make it more transformative leap and then find a new more profitable. And more sustainable model and. Their. Look I can certainly understand The reluctance and taking this leap if companies rechange their underlying business model once they have a certain scale and then live to tell about it, right. We know the names of the companies that have done this net flicks, but from DVD's to streaming adobe. From box software to the cloud, but there's not a lot of companies that do that. and. Needed to make a choice which which direction I wanted to go. And and I should say over that. Became intensely personal for you because hugh and Cyrus really disagreed on on on the direction of the company should take. Steps down he he left the company and you moved into the role of CEO. Those right and what ask you about this neo. Beauty's in the flies of this show is its simplicity and we talked to one person or sometimes too. It's a single narrative, and so we don't have cyrus with us to tell us what happened but I wanna ask you about this time because. This was your co founder. This was your partner This is your friend and he was leaving the company. How did you feel at that time? I all I can say was a very hard and very emotional period for everyone involved and It was certainly a departure But how was through that given these two divergent choices you you couldn't. note, both of us could be useful to talk and. I have to imagine that for for period. China. was sort of the friendship. Look been we were very close we. Were not only friends we had worked for eight years believe together fourteen hours a day, and we probably talked more to each other than to anyone else in our lives but you know. Still touch from time to time and. I think he's joining us on from sideline. He still at prison million owner of the company Yeah, he's still. Here's the thing I mean we've we've told stories about breakups we've had we've had episodes were there were married couples who split divorced but continued the business e O products. Susan Griffin Black and an her husband Brad They continued the business stacy's pita chips continue the business after the divorce sold it for a quarter billion dollars. You guys were worth value to one point eight billion dollars at this point. was was ever party that just thought you know, God look at what we're doing on the core we're going and. I mean did you in service it down and say you know this thing is just growing and? Let's just figure this out. I think the challenge is that it's not as if there was an article way to decide what the right path forward is. As long as investors wanted to give us money growing all costs was yeah. Fine Strategy. The question was just how dependent you wanted to be on the continued goodwill of investors. It sounds like you were tired of going out raising money. You didn't want to do that anymore. Oh, not at all but I think you want to raise money from a position where you know what your turn to is and and. It wasn't clear that the business model would work in in a way that that we could just flip a switch and be profitable. Yeah. So. That was a tough year for you. Two, thousand fifteen. There was an article in business I think business insider, and it was about the sales team. It's October that year and it was. It was some allegations that you know Pete member sales team using adderall even cocaine they were under immense pressure. They were working all the time when you saw that article. And I'm not saying you even aware of any of this. You may not even aware of it but I. have to think that that article really alarmed you and and maybe even embarrassed you. Look A. There were a number of articles in two thousand fourteen fifteen. Didn't absolutely get everything, right but Budweiser I can say is that At. The time doctor had their sales team and we're. Getting very quickly and Your maybe maybe. Too focused on. L. Hitting targets and. Not. Focus enough on creating a strong culture the I hear these stories from six years ago from from time to time and from from now from candidates and and really every time. This happens like a Gut Punch. Because, this we know we're completely different company now. On on so many levels, but clearly, you saw that in new that you had to change something. While yes, I look I l there's a there's a couple of things about this. Right? We are a technology company, but we had said ourselves up too much about. Instead of writing wins and really too little about being adaptable and darning and and building the trust required to try things that now pet the risk of failure. and. So one of the first things I did is to change core values. You know to emphasize those behaviors each one of our values adaptable, not comfortable and other one is progress before perfection learners before masters right and. We only kept really one DIA CONSTANT DEL patients I. Personally that. That was more of the culture that I thought was right for Doc to succeed on many dimensions. So, you take over the company it's got high valuation, but you're still not making money and you know that you've gotta change the underlying business model you're never gonNA make money. And from what I understand this is the beginning of what you have internally described as the second founding of the company. That is right. That is right and that basically happens in in two thousand, eighteen you you launch this new business model where instead of the the dollar membership fee. Basically, you would charge doctors a lot less like two hundred or three hundred bucks, but then every booking you, you would take a cut from that booking. So like a travel agency. A little bit charge for new patient booking. So the existing patients to practice we made free but yes, there was the fundamental idea and. It sounds like such an obvious thing to do but but here's the problem with it and why why are we thought it was incredibly risky to try this. Our best customers that had been on for a long time. They got lots of pockets right and if we start charging them per bookings, their prices go up very significantly in some cases ten times more and that seemed. Competing, insane to us. In. Particular because when we talked to other companies that were at gone through similar changes and even pricing experts, they're number one advisor was make sure whatever you do never charged your best customers more and frost would be precisely. The opposite. In the thing that was counter-balancing this in our mind was well, maybe we'd be able to bring on a lot more doctors because the barrier to entry is now much lower that was there was the back and forth in the team to figure out whether that's the path we want to want to go. So, this is still a risky strategy because you're depending really on new bookings because the two hundred dollar annual fees dramatically lower and I have to imagine in year one, you actually saw drop in your revenue in the year one of of this curve. Second founding. Right. Well, it's from a risk profile worth at that. Right the warriors that you lose all your best customers in with it, all the bookings day used to be getting. and. So we needed to be ready for a very significant drop in bookings and revenue and the second Challenge was here that. The beauty of this approach modest and we got all this money upfront right and Sharon. Now to bond, we're getting paid after the booking with with a thirty day payment periods, we had a huge working capital requirement to make that happen. So did you see a drop and revenue in two thousand eighteen when you rolled this out? No we didn't because we actually didn't see the doctors leave the way that we hit on -ticipant did in fact, you know while we had very much worried that they would be upset and some of them certainly were upset. We were providing so much value to them that. You know what? What took you. So long I knew as getting a great deal all along. So that worked really well, and we had piloted in Georgia initially in April. Two thousand eighteen and then that had worked. So we we then all allowed in Colorado a few weeks later that work to, and from there we went to Washington state and again, very positive results and after these three days. Okay Great. We know this works does it out in our largest most important market? Let's go to New York and that and terribly horribly wrong. They the doctors in New York. Not only were so pissed off they actually I read. mounted a change dot org. Petition I. Don't know what to to to end this practice or something. They were really mad. They were really really mad and I guess you guys responded you said, are we won't we won't roll this out in New York for a while. Yeah look in New York. We. Facilitate Roughly, one in five new patient doctor relationship in the entire city on dock and so. The economic impact for the providers in. was much greater than for the providers in Georgia Colorado Washington. So yes, to give you one example, there's a dermatologist and so and he paid under the ultimate model ten doctor say paid thirty thousand dollars and under the new pricing model, his cost was going to go up from thirty thousand dollars to roughly three hundred, forty, thousand dollars. Wow. So what was your response to that? I? Mean it seems like a pretty reasonable. Concern. Yeah. So look after the conversation with the Dermatologists I. Actually. Put down the phone and I thought you know what? He's right. And so I pause and we regrouped and. We did a couple. Of things during this time, like the first one is we just went on a listening tour. You know we talked to provide their feedback and we just adjusted our this plan to give providers a much longer grace period to decide whether the wants to addition to the new model or not, and then. So then we read on New York six months later and and when dramatically better. So the strategy works and you see results from the strategy pretty quickly like within a year. Within a year, we had we finally at some incredible momentum was really going better than we had expected in our wildest dreams. Our existing client went down to essentially zero. I mean people still retire and and move jobs by no one really left the service and we were adding more and more providers because the barrier to entry was low and So in two thousand, nineteen we began growing profitably. It sounds like two thousand and nineteen was really the banner year. Two thousand nine hundred was a was a fantastic year and honestly we had so much momentum coming into twenty twenty and feel like, Hey, we worked really hard for three years and profitable and now the sky was the limit until. Tells Sam until March of two thousand twenty. Two Marjo twenty twenty and that's. That's really maybe the third founding DOC right? Well, I want to ask you about March twenty twenty because. Your Business is based on people booking with doctors and going to the doctor I have to imagine your revenues must have plummeted like every other industry like I mean doctors offices are still in most of the country. Slow or are trickle of patients coming in. With the lockdown started happening we saw impersonal bookings declining anywhere between fifty to ninety percent by the end of March I'm not surprised and lot of that buys I was getting was to. Lay off people and make sure that we hunker down to weather the storm but I saw an opportunity to build windmills, right so I thought well, we need to be there for our patients. We should be expanding into telehealth and I need every team member to help me do that and so we. Really went all important and supporting video visits and I'll probably June eighteen began redesigning the tire marketplace support virtual care, and so we actually released. Doctor Video Service and we made this available to. Any. Physician whether they are on soccer. for free. And by the way head, you plan to do this. How long would would I mean I'm imagining if you said in in February district I really want to focus on telehealth Would you have expected that by May would have been ready to go. Absolutely. Not I think what has been really fantastic to see is how? We really finished two years of roadmap in two months. Wow, and it's great because it's just gives us a window on what the next phase of doctor will be and really looking forward to that in my mind were the point were Amazon started from going. Books to also adding CDs. We have just gone from doing only in person to also A. Doing telehealth and I can't wait to see how this unfolds. It sounds like you. Might be reading between the lines but. You. Really, admire and respect your co-founders particularly. Cyrus and the work that he did to to build this company but I wonder if do you think that you will a I dunno, rekindle your friendship i. Is it something that is in the cards because a break is? Is Emotionally, it's hard Mesa really hard. Yeah, look I Do I think we'll work fourteen hours together again maybe not but you know I I've gotten through tougher breakups and reconciled in my past, and so I think we are we're in good shape and honestly know we are meeting were talking from time to time Yeah. We both have things to do and places to be so we're. Not, hanging out all the time. But it's now also five years ago So We are we're merch focused on making our join the baby successful. When you think about your journey and All Its happen to you how much do you think this has to do with? with luck and how much do you think it has to do with with the hard work you put in your your skills. Well I'm going look I I believe that there's really three ingredients to success. In order importance there are lock the talent, then hard work and. The only one. That's comedian. You control his how hard you work right and Now working hard to gives you more shots on goal It helps his day on the top of what you your talent allows and absolutely restarted at the right time the right place. So What what I'm proud of an all that journey has only that yet when we were wrong and when be had to revise and. When we needed the grit to actually make it work. I L we lived up to that and and that's really The all that anyone can ask themselves to. Oliver Karaz co-founder of Zach Braff by the way, remember how they originally wanted to call it physicians dot com or doctors dot. com. COULDN'T AFFORD THE MILLION DOLLAR PRICE TAG to buy the domain name. DOC DOT COM wasn't only available the price they paid for that domain name. Six Bucks. and. Thanks so much for listening to this show this week, you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You could also write to us at H. I. T. at NPR DOT Org. If you want to send a tweet, it's at how I felt this or at Cairo's can also follow me on instagram that's at Guy Dot Roz. Our show was produced this week by Jet Anderson with music composed by Tina. Bluey. Thanks also to Julia Carney Candice Limb Neva grant and Jeff Rodgers I'm guy. Roz even listening to how I built this. This is NPR. Black voters play a crucial role for any Democrat who seeks to win the White House but some big devise amongst that block and some serious influence
How Oliver Kharraz Built Zocdoc
"One of the most challenging problems for startups that offer to connect customers with service providers is what's known as the chicken and egg problem. This is the problem companies like AIRBNB and lift had to solve without homeless things in the case of AIRBNB or drivers. In the case of lift, you'd have no customers but at the beginning, neither of these companies had any customer. So convincing people to list their homes or drivers to offer rides to strangers was not. An easy thing to overcome and Tony? Shoe. The CO founder of Jordache on the show back in two thousand eighteen had the same problem. When he started out, he needed customers who wanted food delivered to their homes henny needed lots of restaurants to participate. But you can't get restaurants without the customer demand and you can't get those customers without lots of restaurants. Same thing with class pass and Birch box you need both sides of the market to buy in. And back in two thousand, seven in New York City Oliver Curme. Had, the quintessential chicken and egg problem he and his co founder. Cyrus Masumi trying to launch Zach Doc. It's an online service that takes a lot of the pain and frustration at of booking doctor's appointment. You can go online find the type of doctor you need plug in your insurance and then book an appointment through system that's directly linked to that doctors. Calendar, a super simple and smart idea, right. But back in two thousand, seven Oliver Cyrus had to convince doctors that this was a service worth paying for. But then why should they pay for it if it were not potential patients and meanwhile oliver and Cyrus, had to show potential patients that this was a service with lots of great doctors to choose from. All those chickens and all those eggs took a long time to bring together. And then after growing slowly, and then quickly Oliver faced his biggest growing pain of all the realization that he had to completely revamp the business bottle of doc if it was going to survive. A decision that was so painful. It actually led to the break-up of his nearly ten year partnership with Cyrus. But let's start at the beginning. Oliver Karaz was born and raised in Germany mostly in rural parts of the country his mother was German and his father was from Iran in came from a long line of doctors. For me, it really starts in some ways with my dad and. The timing rapidly had every reason to become a social activist and and so he came to Germany from the Middle East when he was very young around twenty with no money in his pocket no language skills. And you personally then worked on of odd jobs, but he eventually became a psychiatrist but what has really shaped me much more than being born in Berlin is. Social. Active. Isn't that I that I saw him live and that he really made our family mattress we always talked about talent responsibility and the need to use. Whatever telling behind to help those. Around us that we can make a difference. Given that your father was Iranian and your mother was was sort of. German. An Uber even though you were born in Germany, did you feel did you feel as Germany everybody else? So I didn't have a second identity. We only used spoke German at home and yet. As you say I was also a not always fully accepted. So if I give you an example, my school twelve hundred students and you could pick out to the didn't look like everyone else and I was one of them right and even an enlightened country like Germany. That is notable. So I had what I call a visual accent would people would see me on the street and they would ask me how to speak German. So well and But they also school the skipped my name when reading out scores because they weren't sure how to pronounce my last name and opportunities taken away and even at was physically threatened so i. I think that really shaping in many ways because I realized. Very early that in order to be as successful as everyone around me I would have to be dramatically better in really work much much harder than anyone else and so that used to be strong work ethic