growth

Wellist adds industry experts to team

FOUNDERSWIRE FILE PHOTO: Wellist CEO Ashley Reid 

By SHELAGH BRALEY
@founderswire

BOSTON—Wellist, the high-profile patient experience solutions provider, announced more growth today, in the form of two key executives who will significantly accelerate the company’s reach.

Joining the team are Sharyn Lee, as vice president of growth, and Erik Hjortshoj as chief technology officer. Both come on board with relevant industry experience to leverage.

“We are proud to be working with some of the leading providers in the country who are committed equally to achieving clinical excellence and improving the patient experience,” says Ashley Reid, founder and CEO, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be adding such experienced leadership to guide our growing business.

sharyn lee

Reid consistently has shared her view, that the most important quality she looks for in any of Wellist’s hires is an inherent drive to deliver compassionate care.

“We have this incredible moral obligation to deliver something with excellence,” Reid said in a past interview. “The ability to get people who have had these amazing careers to build the next chapter of Wellist is another part of our evolution.”

Lee, a registered nurse and nationally recognized healthcare strategist, brings experience in business development, sales, marketing, medical education and training. She was co-founder and president of the Medical Education Broadcast Network, an Inc 500 award-winner. Lee plans to leverage deep relationships across health plans, academic medical centers and hospitals to acquire new partnerships for Wellist.

Wellist erik

Hjortshoj, who comes to Wellist from Burning Glass Technologies, where he implemented large-scale organizational changes across global teams, delivering machine learning and data solutions to the ed tech and HR tech markets. Previous experience includes stints with American Well and ShapeUp, where he added strategic technical, health IT and product management leadership.

Wellist also announced additions to its board of advisors: Bill Huyett and Andrew DiMichele, whose skills focus on strategic planning and health tech expertise. Huyett a former director with McKinsey and Co., spent 16 years developing corporate strategy and product. He is known as an innovator in the commercialization and marketing of health care, having worked in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Zurich.

DiMichele is the co-founder and CTO of Omada Health, where he developed the technology that propels Omada’s online program. His expertise lies in building high-performance engineering, data science and IT teams.

Wellist clients include Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The award-winning Wellist has been named most innovative technology of the year by MassTLC and a top 50 digital health honoree for diversity leadership by Rock Health. Reid was also recognized for her leadership in the Boston tech ecosystem as a FoundersWire Female Founder of the Week.

Advanced Pitching Skills: Avoid the 9 Worst Thin Spots

Adapted from a piece that originally appeared on The Seraf Compass.


By CHRISTOPHER MIRACLE
@cmirabile

If you want to get through a demo day or pick up a few seed investors, you can do it by covering the basics. But if you want to raise serious money, you are going to have to dig deeper into your bag of tricks and address some of the advanced issues. These are the critical areas where pitches are almost always too shallow. Knowing which are the trouble spots and how to make sure they are covered is essential advice. Let’s go through them one at a time.

Explaining The Market Moment

To be credible, a pitch must answer the “why you, why now?” questions that provide context for the business. What has changed in the universe that makes this business suddenly not only possible, but a great idea? An entrepreneur must explain why they are the gal or guy to do it.

Detailing The Go-To-Market

An entrepreneur has to be specific about how they are going to crack their market. Selling is really hard, especially to certain types of customers. They are going to need to convince investors that they have a very specific and detailed plan or business model innovation that is going to allow them to acquire their intended customers affordably (relative to their lifetime value).

Assuming Fast Consumer Behavior Change

Making assumptions about how target customers’ behavior is magically going to change has been referred to as “delusional economics.” After the few early adopters, mainstream customers have incredible inertia. The power of the status quo can be immense. The arrival of the internet/wireless/mobile is not going to suspend the laws of physics and gravity in an entrepreneur’s industry. It is not safe to assume that if they build a more efficient clearinghouse / marketplace / trading platform / matching service, everyone’s behavior will instantly and automatically change. Convincing customers to buy from them is going to be hard and expensive. They need to explain what secret sauce makes it less hard.

Paying Insufficient Attention to Buying Priorities

Certainly someone will want an entrepreneur’s product. Unfortunately, their immediate addressable market is limited to the people for whom buying their product is a top priority. How many of them are there? Although a lot of businesses identify a real, legitimate problem for customers, they still fail because other higher priority problems gobble up customer wallet share.

Omitting Marketing Skills

When talking about their go-to-market, entrepreneurs either need to convince investors that they have the marketing experience on the team, OR that they know they don’t and they plan to go get it. Everyone thinks they know how to market. Most don’t. Entrepreneurs need to identify the marketers who can help them.

Building a Realistic Model

Most entrepreneurs totally underestimate what it will cost to achieve success. Investors have seen and experienced many business models and know it is always harder, takes longer and costs more than anticipated. It is crucial to really think through the necessary people, time and financial resources required, and to come prepared with a realistic plan. Entrepreneurs should use both a bottom-up and a top-down approach. Then sanity check it against benchmarks. Underestimating costs and showing an improbably fast time to big revenue and profitability doesn’t impress people with the model – it highlights the naivety.

Assuming It Will Translate

Even if an entrepreneur can paint a credible case for their initial target market, don’t assume that the next vertical, next geography or next customer segment will be as easy. Logic dictates that they are starting in the easiest place. By definition, any expansion will be harder and farther out of their comfort zone and experience base. They must be realistic about their expansion assumptions. Yes, their brand and momentum will help a little, but nowhere near as much as they think (see Build a Realistic Model).

Engineering a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Even if a company can fight to win a segment, if it cannot make any money at it over the long haul, they’ve still lost. Too many entrepreneurs talk as if their market is standing still, when, in fact, any market worth tackling will always be evolving and growing more competitive. It is critical to talk about how they will defend their position, their pricing, and their margins against the inevitable competitive reactions. It might be intellectual property, it might be some kind of tolerable customer lock-in or switching cost, it might be a product roadmap that keeps their value prop more compelling over time. Whatever it is, they need to explain it, and the explanation needs to be believable.

Failing to Think Exit Scenarios Through

Most entrepreneurs don’t think through their exit strategy adequately. If they succeed, who buys them? Ultimately this is the bottom line for investors. Equity from investors is like a loan that the buyer of their company pays back. They need to talk in detail about the different classes of buyers, why they would buy the company, what they would value it for, what kinds of multiples they might be expected to receive, and what milestones they will need to hit to command those prices.

It is not easy for an entrepreneur to step back and look at their story objectively enough to spot where it is thin. But there are a few critical big-picture elements they simply cannot afford to blow past. Their job is to make sure to cover the above topics adequately—this is the key to convincing investors that the company and team is one that just might reach exit velocity and escape rather than fall back out of orbit and burn up on the way down.


Seraf Co-Founder Christopher Mirabile is the chair of the Angel Capital Association and also Co- Managing Director of Launchpad Venture Group. He has personally invested in more than 50 startup companies and is a limited partner in four specialized angel funds. Mirabile is a frequent panelist and speaker on entrepreneurship and angel-related topics and serves as an adjunct lecturer in entrepreneurship in the MBA program at Babson.

Education is personal for Curriculum Associates chief

By SHELAGH BRALEY

NORTH BILLERICA, Mass.—Personalization is the future of education, experts say, defining curriculum with real-life skills, data-gathering tools and learning environments that meet individual students’ needs.

“This type of learning leads to better student engagement because the content is relevant to each student and tailored to their unique needs,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. “It also leads to better student outcomes because the pace of learning is customized to each student. By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money.”

Nowhere is this more important than in communities where the poverty divide has only grown in the last few decades. To disrupt this have and have-not dynamic, school districts are leveraging technology to better understand student needs, and make the most effective use of school resources.

Helping educators down this path is Curriculum Associates, champion of improved education for all. CEO Rob Waldron, deeply impassioned about what’s at stake for students, knows what he’s up against.

“I think the work of education is hard, and it’s principally done in the same way that great doctors and nurses are doing the healing,” he says. He likens that to the role of Curriculum Associates as they create educational materials (print and increasingly digital) that assess where a child is in the learning process.

“We try to figure out exactly where a child is, where they’re ready to learn, and then adjust the content to that child so they’re gaining whatever set of skills they need in the teacher’s view,” he says.

Waldron—a 2016 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year—came on board Curriculum Associates in 2008, taking over for founder Frank Ferguson just when the effects of the recession were hitting schools the hardest, especially in lower-income districts.

“We work with … those kids who are on a spectrum of poverty,” he says, estimating that at least two-thirds of the students they serve receive a reduced lunch subsidy. The benefit of working in these communities is multifaceted, saving already-overstretched teachers a significant amount of time trying to assess where students are faltering, providing a simple way to share results with parents, and addressing students from where they are educationally, to lower their stress and increase success rates. They also serve private schools, Waldron notes.

Waldron says Curriculum Associates aims to create rigorous standards to ensure that students are consistently acquiring the tools they need for the future. “We want to make sure kids are ready, not just depending on people’s feelings—no, the kids are really learning,” he says. “(Teaching to the test) has had all these downstream consequences: You get people prepping for the test and not really learning.”

But what students need to learn is complex, and it isn’t always clear where they fall off track. That’s where Curriculum Associates does its best work.

“Is it a better deal to buy a pound of coffee for $9 or 12 ounces for $7.50?” Waldron asks, re-creating a typical question for students. “That’s a multi-step process, you’re doing fractions in your head,” he encourages. “You knew that ounces were part of a pound. That concept has to be taught.

“We’re behind the scenes capturing how many times a child has had trouble with this. We’ll grab those lessons and pull them out based on the fact that you have to work on conversions before you can work on fractions,” he says, “especially if English isn’t your first language.”

Waldron, a Harvard MBA whose driving force grew from his previous positions with Jumpstart, a non-profit focused on providing a strong educational foundation for preschoolers from under-resourced communities, as well as Kaplan Education, has expanded Curriculum Associates into the nation’s fastest growing K-12 education publishing company. His mission remains to improve classrooms everywhere.

“What we do has made a big difference, not just to teachers but to learners, families, and of course, to the administration of schools that are trying to figure out how to improve,” Waldron says.

He recognizes the trials of a legacy business such as publishing, but sees the opportunity only expanding—as company revenue has quadrupled under his leadership and added more than 300 new employees to the team since 2015. The pressure is also present to continually deliver innovation that meets—even surpasses—industry need.

“If we don’t perform and deliver great results, (our customers) are gone, because they’re subscribing annually. We have to keep making great content,” he says. It isn’t a significant worry, though, according to Waldron. “We have focus groups all the time,” he says, “and the biggest thing I see is our renewal rates. Our top 100 customers have a 99 percent renewal rate—they’re going to buy again next year.”

Those numbers are making an impact on students, with more than 3 million of them already using digital product iReady alone. Curriculum Associates serves more than 10 percent of all U.S. students in K-8 nationwide. “If a child uses our software for 45 minutes a week on average, they will have a 47 to 48 percent gain in English skills and a 65 percent gain in math skills,” Waldron says, citing research completed by the Educational Research Institute of America among others.

The student data tells the real story, and the happy ending is adaptability. When a lesson is deployed to 20,000 students, but only 5,000 get to mastery, the team is quick to respond, assess, change or even toss out the lesson. “Before, it would take five years for that (level of analysis and reaction) to happen,” he says, and goes on to describe how they can further segment student results to drill deeper. “(In specific): Why didn’t African-American boys on free lunch not get mastery of that lesson? We can figure that out.”

While Curriculum Associates continues to grow its customer base, students’ needs and expectations continue to evolve—with more parents and educators looking to digital content to make the difference.

“The change to adaptive learning is huge. It will take a number of years to get great, but I’m super excited about kids getting (lessons) at their level, and I’m excited about how content will improve,” Waldron says.

Growth does not come without its challenges, but for Waldron, solving this education puzzle is an achievable goal.

“I have to figure out how to give (students) hundreds of hours of norms-based content they find engaging … it’s a hell of a challenge. We have to keep cost low. It’s high stakes things like teaching kids how to read,” he says.

“It’s a huge Rubik’s cube that I find really exhilarating.”