Docity is a committed team of innovators that is completely dedicated to improving the patient experience. They are finding new ways to connect patients with providers and delivering VIP medicine at scale. Docity is a veteran-owned company with offices in Orlando, FL and Chattanooga, TN, and we sat down with Founder and CEO, James Cowan to learn how Docity got started.
Q: Can you start with your name, age, business name and location?
A: I am James Cowan and I'm 38 years old, and we're located in Orlando, Florida. The name of our business is Docity Health.
James Cowan, Founder and CEO
Q: Could you explain Docity Health in a couple of sentences?
A: Docity is a telemedicine platform that connects patients with providers face to face through a smartphone, tablet, or computer. It's secure, HIPAA compliant, and encrypted from end to end. We serve two distinct clients or populations. The first is clinics and clinicians. They can license our software to connect with their existing or new patients through our portals. The other is a direct to consumer model, where we partner with internet service providers, like Blackfoot, to offer an on-bill subscription for families and households to sign up for.
Q: And could you speak towards your role within Docity?
A: I'm the founder and CEO of Docity. I have a cofounder, Will Bewley, who acts as my chief operations officer and chief technology officer.
Will Bewley, COO and CTO
Q: How did you get into this business, and what was the moment you decided to do it?
A: When I left the Marine Corps in 2009, I went to grad school and I started working in the smart home and energy efficiency space. That led to a career working with utility companies, in particular electric and gas utilities, where I launched the very first smart home programs that were really commercialized at scale on behalf of utility companies. And so back in the 2014, 2015 timeframe, my wife and I actually moved from my hometown of Flint, Michigan, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where my wife was from. The reason we moved was because her sister's husband, who was a member of the Chattanooga police department, and also a Marine like myself, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We had the chance to move down there and try to support them. So we did.
The impetus for this was that while I was working there, we really discovered that Nathan's life was impacted by two things. The first was the disease, and the second was the system that was trying to treat it. We would be on vacation, or we would be traveling and something would happen; we'd have to walk away for several hours to go and figure out what was going on with him and get him taken care of. And really it was Sarah who was making all those trips. But at the same time, we have a large family. I've got five children now. We were constantly having to go to the doctor for something. The majority of the time it was something we could self-diagnose, like pink eye. It was frustrating for me and for my wife, and even for our children. So those factors combined to effectively really upset me. And I said, "There's got to be a better way to do this and we need to create a subscription that I can sign up for to get my family treated when it's something we can diagnose from home."
Q: Thank you for that. I love that inception story and I'm glad we got to discuss it. From there, can you tell me what was that first year of Docity like?
A: Docity has a unique go to market strategy. There are literally dozens and dozens of telemedicine companies that are trying to, ostensibly, do the same thing that we're doing. But the way that we do it makes us completely unique. We had to go find our version of a utility company that had access to households, and convince them that they should get involved in something that they've never been involved in before, which is health care. The first year was basically 2016, 2017, and that year was spent building the first version of our product and signing our first clients to make some money. During that time I met Will, who became my co founder. We struggled. We struggled mightily, at first. We were able to get some investors and some clients in revenue. We built up during that first year an immunity to hardship, and a willingness to just get things done when they needed. And made some changes in our personal lives as a family to reduce our expenses and really commit, as a whole, to what we were doing. But the first year was hard because not only did we have to survive, but we also had to convince the very large organizations and internet service providers that they should try something really bold.
Q: That sounds like an uphill battle. Was there anyone in particular that inspired you or encouraged you to become a business owner?
A: Yes, that's a question that I can break into two parts.
I would say the initial inspiration wasn't a person per se, that I looked at as a business leader. I don't really have someone who I say, "You know, I want to be like X or Y." It was never like that for me. I didn't grow up wanting to be an entrepreneur. There were other things I wanted to do. So business is just something that I studied and got degrees in. But in spite of that, I never fell in love with the people. It was always the process that drove me towards starting a company.
But there was one person who really, when the time came to quit a really stable, good paying job, and make the move, and that was my wife. I remember sitting in the room with her, and I was working a full time job, and working on what became Docity in the evenings and on the side. I was just talking to her at the table, and I remember just saying, "I'm frustrated because I'm working my job, and I'm doing my job, and I'm doing it well, but it just drags every day, and I just can't get excited about it." And she talked to me, asked me a few questions, and then finally she said, "You should quit your job." And I said, "Are you insane? We have a big house. Do you like this house? Do you want to keep this house? Do you like our cars? You want to keep those?" And she said, "Those are just things, and you've got something that you're passionate about, and I think that we should take a chance." And she said, "We." And that was sort of the moment when I knew that I had the support of the one person that really mattered, and that gave me permission to do something brave.
Q: That's admirable. I can just think of the power that your better half just wields, and I can't wait to meet her at some point. I appreciate that. Speaking towards success, how do you define success for yourself, both professionally and personally?
A: Man, I mean that's a different answer during COVID-19 than it was before COVID-19… but I'll say I've always defined success through the feeling of accomplishment that I get, personally. I'm driven by progress over motion. There are a lot of things that happen in the startup world that are really just motion. They don't drive your product forward. They don't get sales. They don't move the needle, so to speak. There's a lot of distractions that are really just motion. Progress drives me and that's what gets me up every day, seeing something move forward. And it's not always sales. Sometimes, in fact, most of the time it's seeing when our software makes somebody else's life better. When we've got clinics, like we do in Michigan and Tennessee, that are serving folks who have immunocompromised systems during an outbreak, like the one we're going through right now. And they're able to transition their entire in-office operation to our system to serve their people better, and keep them home, and keep them safe. Those are huge moments for us when a practice transforms the way they operate, and they create a new business line, or a new revenue line that serves more patients.
There was a time in Chattanooga, where a family that lived up on a mountain. And up on that mountain there was a pharmacy. But their doctor was down in the valley, and there was a snow storm that quickly turned into ice because of the warmer climate. They couldn't get out, and they had a kid who was sick, but we were able to connect them during that time. They didn't have to go out and try to drive to go see a doctor. They saw the physician through Docity. We had a digital otoscope that they could plug into their computer that works inside of our system, and they could show the doctor the inside of their kid's ear. And they were very thankful for what we were able to do, and then get the prescription sent to the pharmacy afterwards.
Those are the things that drive me and how we measure success. As a company, we measure it through our mission and our vision. Our mission is to enable universal access to healthcare, no matter where someone is, who they are, where they live. We want universal access. And then the vision of our company is to eliminate 30% of all in person visits by 2030, at 30% of the costs. So those two things drive us. Those are the metrics that we track.
Q: I'm applauding everything as you're speaking towards this. This is amazing. What has been the most important skill that you've personally developed to be a good business owner?
A: I'd be more curious to hear other people's answers, like my wife's or Will's answer to that question. I'll say that one of the biggest skills has been, and this was cultivated through a lifetime of the various things that I went through, from the time I was a child, up through college, and then adult life, in the Marine Corps, and Iraq, and then starting a startup, that you have to be able to take it on the chin. The reality of the matter, as a startup, is that until things get moving, more bad things are going to happen than good. That's a counterintuitive nugget of wisdom to share with startup founders. But they need to realize that your mentality has to be one that knows failure is coming. But decides to move forward in spite of it.
You're going to pursue accounts with all your heart, and they're going to not happen. You're going to prepare, and prepare, and prepare, and then they're going to choose somebody else. You're going to call 100 times, and get hung up on 99. But you got to live for that one, because that's really what this is about. Success is built over time. Very few people start something and then immediately become raving success. If you cannot stomach the pain, if you have a low tolerance for defeat, then this is really not the business for you. You have to wake up every day dedicated to do what you set out to do from the beginning. So really, the biggest skill that has been cultivated, it didn't start when I started a company, but before I started a company, that skill of endurance and toughness had to be built.
Q: That's a great answer. What are some of your favorite resources then for developing yourself? And obviously with your last answer, perseverance, and thick skin, or lifetime game skills, but are there any other resources you have for continual development?
A: I mean, I've always made a habit of reading and listening. I value those even more so than what I watch with my eyes on TV. So books, I try to read as often as I can. Typically I'll go 30 to 40 books a year. And whenever I read a book, if it's a business book, I make sure that I take something out of it. If there is something, and there most always is, and I apply it to the business immediately. Books like Measure What Matters, by John Doerr, helped us establish objectives and key results within our company, and we track against those to make sure that we're hitting our mission and vision values. So reading is one. Always got to have a book you're going through, sometimes more than once.
Along with reading is that it can't just be nonfiction. I used to just read nonfiction, and I had to change that and start reading fiction again to get my imagination living. Anybody who has stopped reading fiction should get back on it because it really opens up the way you think about things. A great example of that is I read, or listened to, the audio book for Ready Player One. Loved it, and it really made me think about healthcare and what could be influenced in that sort of a paradigm. It's important to read books of all kinds. And then podcasts. “The Way I Heard It” with Mike Rowe is one that I enjoy and startup podcasts, business podcasts, things like that.
Q: Yes, I’m right there with you on fiction and nonfiction. The next two questions are interesting and I love hearing the responses. Have you ever thought about quitting? If so, can you tell us the story?
A: So, as I mentioned, we started the business back in 2016 and there were good times and bad times during that year, so bad at one point that I walked out, it was in early January 2017, and we had fallen behind on payments. I walked out to get in my car to go to work, and it had been repossessed. I didn't think about quitting when that happened, but I did have to take a moment and say, "Is this thing going to cost me everything or what is the real cost of this if we can't get sales? And I had made sure that all of our other bills were paid as a business, that the folks who were working for me had gotten paid, but we had fallen behind on our own bills.
Now, instead of quitting, what I decided to do was sell, and we went on a tear. I got my car back within the next sort of 10 days, and that was an important lesson. I never thought about quitting, but I had the opportunity to quit. That's really the best I can give you for thinking about quitting.
I will say we've had tons of opportunities to quit when things have been bad, but that endurance thing always comes into play because I'll just be honest with you, the months of November, December and January of this year, we kind of went flat on our growth trajectory and we were making decisions about pivoting. We were going to shift to a different market, a different product, something else, because if we can't sell enough to pay everybody, then what are we doing here? But we hung in there, and it's not fortunate, but COVID-19 has really injected a lot of life into our business. So, I've never really thought about quitting, I've always thought about pivots and what we can do next.
Q: I appreciate you sharing the story. And you actually answered kind of my next question about what do you do when it feels hard or what makes you keep going, and you've definitely kind of outlined that for me as well. So, the next question I have is, what was your struggle that made you feel like you potentially needed extra support with Docity or was there a struggle that made you feel like you needed extra support to build your business?
A: I was the only founder when this started, and I will never recommend being a solo founder to anyone. It's the very worst way to start a business. At the same time, if you bring the wrong people on, then that's very dangerous too. Will was hired on as a salesperson when he graduated college and because we grew so close, he ended up becoming a cofounder or getting equity and really becoming critical to everything that we do. So, there's nothing that really happened, it's just you can't do this alone. It's very unwise to do it alone. So, at a certain point, I grabbed a cofounder and he's been one of those people, one of those things that keeps us going when things are tough, because when I'm burnt out, I can flip it to him and vice versa.
Q: Last few questions, more focused on C2M now. What unexpected value did you gain from going through that C2M accelerator program?
A: I guess there's one unexpected thing, and that is through the conversations we had with Blackfoot and with Les Craig from Next Frontier. We made some business model changes to the way we price our products in the B2B2C market when we go through an ISP. We were able to get some really keen feedback about what we can do, what we should do and what we shouldn't do, and it caused us to restructure the pricing mechanisms.
Q: What's one big accomplishment your company has had since going through the accelerator?
A: Let's see here, biggest accomplishment… We've had several. But the best one was probably our ability to be able to react when COVID-19 hit. The fact that we had already built out the system to do what it was supposed to do, to serve the people who needed it most, the fact that we had people on the system already, the fact that we had already cultivated relationships, that's what enabled our success. I'll say this, when it comes to responding in a crisis or as a company thriving during a crisis, that does not happen because a crisis occurs. When a crisis comes, it's too late to prepare for a crisis. The vast majority of our success in the last six to eight weeks during this time has been because of relationships that we built, people that we took care of, and sort of prospects that we had already engaged with. So, our success here is because of COVID-19 but it didn't happen because of COVID-19, it happened because we put the work in.
Q: What's one piece of advice that you'd give another business owner that's about to do an accelerator?
A: Measure motion versus progress. You have to determine if the things that they do are just going through the motions, pitches, and feedback events and things like that, or if it's actually going to teach you something or give you something. Then can you give something in return? We had the opportunity to work with lots of accelerators, name brand accelerators. We really enjoyed C2M and Blackfoot's relationship because of who they are, what they did, and their values really matched ours. We were able to take that compressed timeframe and get very specific, actionable results.
Q: Any last words on C2M or life in general?
A: Tough times don't last forever but tough people do.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, James!
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