PatientOne has developed a unique solution for the surgical episode of care in the exploding patient engagement market. They provide risk mitigation tools, ensuring patients are prepared for their surgical procedure, and better supported through a successful recovery. And patients stay connected to their provider's office at all times. Read on as we sit down with PatientOne's CEO, Jeff Fee to discuss this and more, enjoy!
Q: What is your name, title and company name?
A: Jeff Fee, I'm 53 years old and I'm located here in God's country, Montana as the CEO of PatientOne.
Q: Could you explain yourself in a couple of sentences?
A: Professionally, a seasoned healthcare executive that is hell bent on engaging in positive disruption in a healthcare delivery system that needs to be positively disrupted.
Q: And personally?
A: A family man who loves living in the mountains of a Western Montana where I can ski, mountain bike, fly fish and be outdoors.
Q: Tell me about PatientOne and your role specifically.
A: I currently serve as the chief exec for Patient One. Patient One is an automated care management and remote patient monitoring platform enabling physicians to be able to better manage their most at risk patients while getting paid while doing so.
Q: How did you get into this business and what was the moment you decided to do it?
A: I served as the chief exec for St. Pat's Providence Hospital in the Western Montana region for a little over 10 years. And when I left, I really had a desire to do something more disruptive. I spent a lot of time in my former role trying to change the way healthcare was delivered in the communities that we serve and I realized while we made incremental improvements, you can't really disrupt healthcare from inside the belly of the beast because the beast has a voracious appetite and you have to play by the rules, the economic rules that are presented to you.
So having a desire, like I said earlier, to engage in active disruption in the healthcare system I recognized the best way for me to do that as an industry insider would be to do it from outside, not basically chained by the rules of most industry insiders. So that was my initial motivation. I got asked to join Patient One as an adviser originally, and ultimately as we progressed our product went through the BoomTown Accelerator and went through the C2M accelerator, that is when I made the decision to join full time as a chief exec.
Q: What was that first year with C2M as an executive like?
A: We were still forming as a company. We had finished the BoomTown accelerator in Boulder, which was a pretty intense 12 week program. The goal of that particular accelerator was to get you ready to pitch your company and it's basically a bootcamp for your investor pitch.
The C2M accelerator was a different focus. It was more about how do you operationalize and actually get your company off the ground. Blackfoot obviously gave us unfettered access to a lot of their resources from both strategic planning, subject matter experts specifically around sales and marketing, those types of things. So I don't think we would be nearly as far along in our organization as we are had we not gone through that process.
Q: Now speaking about being inspired, was there anyone in particular that inspired you or encouraged you to become, say the exec that you are now?
A: I didn't get into healthcare intentionally. I started my career with Ernst and Young and I got put on the hospital corporation of America engagement, this was back in the early 90s. And I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure a way to get out of healthcare but I realized that you can find a really strong sense of purpose in the healthcare industry and especially if you take your job seriously. But after I left St. Pat's in early 2017 I had to do a lot of soul searching about how I wanted to spend the remaining part of my professional career. My daughter was off to college, my wife was back in school and here I am in my peak earning years taking probably the biggest professional risk of my life. I made the decision to do that based upon my sincere desire to want to be a positive force in changing the way healthcare is delivered.
And to think of my inspiration, I've got some really close friends back in the Nashville area where I grew up. Several of them have been very successful business owners themselves and I've always admired people that had the guts to go out there and start something from scratch. So I've got several very, very dear friends of mine, they're my best friends back in Nashville that really I think were my source of inspiration. Patient One is an opportunity, it's probably pretty risky at this point in time in my career, but I know looking back on my life if I didn't take that risk and do something that I really strongly believed in. I knew I would regret that more than actually just kind of stay in the safe course. So it was my really good friends back in Nashville.
Q: That's a great answer, that internal kind of motivation and that external inspiration. Thanks for sharing that. With that being said, how do you now define success for yourself, both from that professional and that personal perspective?
A: Well, I will say this, running a hospital, there's nothing easy about it. It's incredibly complex. It's incredibly political. It's incredibly regulated and it's obviously a very resource intense and it's just a hard job, but I will tell you that starting a company from scratch with the concept, it is basically just that, the concept and taking it into something that is tangible that people buy and getting people's attention, especially getting people's attention in the healthcare industry has proven to be one of the hardest things I've ever done.
Professionally it is the hardest thing I've ever done in my career. Selling into the healthcare space is incredibly demanding, the American healthcare system is incredibly resistant to change even though it's being changed every day. So I think from my perspective and this is really maybe obvious, but professional success for me is actually getting the company into a stable financial footing.
In a perfect world, we generate enough revenue to where we have the option to do a series A or we can grow organically with revenue that is coming into the organization. So that's my site for 2020. Interesting enough, this COVID pandemic for what we do is representing unique opportunities for our company. Remote patient monitoring is new in terms of the payers reimbursing the providers to actually do that body of work and I think people now really understand the clinical and public health utility of remotely monitoring at risk patients. Our primary customers are hospitals and physician offices and right now even though people get it like they've never got it before, trying to get people to slow down when their hair's on fire and they're in full scramble mode is particularly challenging. But I think when things settle down, it's going to present some unique market opportunities for us to really grow our company.
Q: What's been the most important skill that you've developed that has helped you most in your role with Patient One?
A: That's a great question. I think one of the things that I realized, the skill set for running and what it means to run a hospital are very different from what it means to be successful in a startup. I think one of the things that I've learned in the past two years was just how many skill deficits that I really had. As complex and as demanding as running a hospital is you've got a ready made market, patients are going to get sick, patients are going to come to the emergency room.
Then quite frankly in running a hospital oftentimes, and people have a hard time understanding this from time to time, but your customer really is the physician. I can't bill a single penny without a physician signature. And when physicians have a choice as to where they want to practice or where they're going to admit their patients, ultimately we get paid taking care of those patients. The skill set really was about physician relationships, running a good operation, running a good hospital, and managing good quality because those are all the things that the physicians want.
Going out into the free market where you're basically trying to generate and create customers in a market that is brand new is incredibly challenging. I can sell my product when I'm sitting there talking to my former colleagues and hospital execs. Once I get into selling to a doctor's office or a clinic, we're talking the payers, the dynamic is obviously different and the learning curve has been incredibly steep. I would say probably one of the other biggest skill set deficits that I have is just in the overall marketing. I'm not a social media guy, but I'll tell you if you're in the technology space and you don't have a strong social media presence, you really don't have any credibility. So there's been a whole host of things and I will tell you, it has been an incredibly humbling experience, but it's also been a great learning experience.
Q: What are some of your favorite resources that you've either learned about or are currently utilizing the continue to develop yourself?
A: I've got a set of advisors, some of which we gained when we went through the accelerator in Boulder. We got some that we gained through our C2M experience and then some that came with the actual investment community and then also just individuals here in the market. There's a nice entrepreneurial scene that's growing here in town and learning and networking with other founders has been an incredibly great learning experience.
Q: All right, now we're going to shift gears a little bit and talk about struggle and potentially quitting. So have you ever thought about giving it up? Have you ever thought about quitting? If so, can you tell us maybe a little more about it?
A: I haven't allowed myself to think about quitting. When I left my career running hospitals and made the decision to take both feet off the dock and jump into the boat. I did so knowing that I had to make it work and because at the end of the day, if I allow myself to think about quitting, I'm in essence throwing in the towel and I just can't afford to let myself think that way. Now are there times when I wake up at three o'clock in the morning going, what the hell have I done? What am I doing?
Absolutely. There have been a ton of sleepless nights, but in the morning I get up, put on my pants, put my boots on and get after it. If I don't, the alternative is me going back into my former career running a hospital in God knows where and that just really at this point in time does not have any professional or personal appeal, so I have to make it work.
Q: I really respect that. Thank you for that Jeff. And then on that, what do you think is one of the hardest aspects of being a business owner in this startup world?
A: I would say it's the uncertainty. That basically growing something in the face of just 100% uncertainty is really unnerving. Like I said before, when you're running a hospital... hospitals are going to morph, hospitals are going to change, there's probably going to be in some cases, fewer hospitals, but I never really faced the kind of uncertainty that I did and doing so when I'm in my peak earning years from my former career, that risk has certainly grown significantly in the past couple of years. And so I'd say that's been probably the hardest thing and I will tell you that, like I said earlier, it's contributed to a lot of sleepless nights.
Q: Could you identify one struggle that made you feel like you needed either someone or some team of extra support to help Patient One to grow?
A: So backing up just a minute, these remote patient monitoring codes that we're building our company around in a lot of respects, it goes beyond the codes for sure, but the economic value that these codes bring to hospitals and independent physicians, It's probably the largest incentive that we've seen coming from Medicare in the digital health history. And it seems to me like it's such a no brainer when I can go to an independent physician and say, "Hey, I could double your income." There's not a primary care physician in the US who doesn't believe they're undervalued relative to their compensation compared to their specialist peers.
So when we started going after the independent primary care market, we thought it was a slam dunk and what we found was complete and utter skepticism. When I was back in St. Pats, I had a unique relationship with one of my physicians and she helped me understand things better from a physician’s perspective. She said, "Jeff, I know what you are trying to say, but you’re saying it in administrative speak and it doesn’t resonate with the physicians.
And I realized very quickly that how we were talking to these independent physicians was not resonating with them. I reached out to some physicians in kind of a semi controlled focus group. We started talking about language and how we talked to physicians and recognized that everything that we had done to that point when we're reaching out to individual physicians was destined to fail from the very beginning because the language and the motivation for getting people to listen were completely off base.
Q: What unexpected value did you gain from going through the C2M accelerator program?
A: I will say when we were going through, one of the sessions that stands out in my memory as being particularly helpful, we had just gotten an interest from our lead investor in making an investment in Patient One. And the actual term sheet, we got this term sheet and it contained the language that I was largely very unaware of. I've spent my entire career working in very complex contracts but nothing like this. We had a session with the team, which included Jeremy Brown who runs a fund here, he's an attorney and walking through each element of the actual term sheet. He was helping us understand what they meant and the implications were beyond helpful. We simply would have probably spent several thousands of dollars with an attorney trying to figure that out and we did it in an afternoon as part of our session.
So that one was particularly valuable. And then we had a couple of strategic sessions with the sales team. When I first became an administrator in a hospital, I was the assistant administrator and I had everybody that worked for me that reported to me made more money than I did and had multiple years of experience. What I learned was the more I learned, the more I realized I didn't know what running a pharmacy really meant, what running a lab meant, what running a surgery department meant. I realized that my job was to not necessarily understand the nuances of running a pharmacy, but to understand enough about it to be able to support that pharmacy director so that they can accomplish their objectives. When I think about it in terms of what I learned in that sales, I can sell my hospital to a physician group all day long.
But what I learned in that sales session was I really didn't know jack squat around what a true sales professional is and what they do and how they work. It gave me a very, very strong appreciation for true sales professionals because that is something I never really contemplated and I don't want that to be offensive. But salespeople do sometimes come across the right way, but a really true good sales professional, they can make a world of difference for your organization. And I gained an incredible amount of respect and admiration for good sales professionals.
Q: What's one big accomplishment your company has had since going through the accelerator?
A: We're still relatively early, but I would say when the pandemic hit, I went and sat down with Missoula County public health just to say, "Hey, we're here to help. I'm not trying to be opportunistic," as we mentioned earlier, "This is what we do, we can serve as a productivity tool for your care managers." And they basically said, "Yeah, that's nice to know. We'll get back to you in a week." Within a week we actually had a contract. Things were moving a lot more quickly. So I think the fact that the public health department is finding utility in what we're doing and in our solution itself has been incredibly affirming on many levels.
Q: That's fantastic. What's one piece of advice that you'd give another business owner that's about to join the accelerator?
A: I would say don't be bashful in leaning into resources that are offered up to help you. They all have full-time jobs but they all to a person, everybody that we connected with was very eager to help even though they have full time jobs, like I said on the side and I think that knowledge of the full-time job issue kind of probably held us back a little bit from really leaning into those resources. So to the extent that those resources are offered up, lean into them.
Q: Any last words on C2M startup life or anything else in general?
A: I would like to thank Blackfoot, Jason Williams and Joe Fanguy for giving us this opportunity. It was a game changer for us. Like I said, we wouldn't be nearly as far along as we are has it not been for their assistance. I'm sitting in the C2M beta space today, even though we're supposed to shelter in place, no one's working out of here so I actually set up my trainer right next to my desk. I got a little yoga mat. It's turned into my little fitness center and workspace, which is good for the old nog and getting out of the house if you can do so safely. But just a whole lot of gratitude and appreciation for them doing this. I think the fact that they're engaging in making investments in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in which they work is what we need more of, organizations like Blackfoot doing just that. It's great.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jeff!
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