HUBweek Change Maker: TJ Parker
Co-Founder and CEO, PillPack
TJ Parker is a second generation pharmacist and holds a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He was named one of Forbes’ ’30 Under 30' in Healthcare in 2015 and Inc Magazine’s ’30 under 30’ “Most Dynamic Young CEOs in America” in 2016.
PillPack describes itself as a better, simpler pharmacy. For any of our readers who may not have encountered your service, what does that mean? What sets PillPack apart? PillPack is a full-service pharmacy that makes it simple for people managing multiple chronic medications. PillPack coordinates with your doctor and insurance company, pre-sorts and packages prescriptions, vitamins, and OTC’s by the dose, and automatically delivers them to your door. PillPack has simple and easy-to-use web and mobile tools and pharmacists are available via phone, email, and mobile chat 24/7.
Was there an “aha!” moment or realization that kickstarted your journey with PillPack? If so, what was that source of inspiration? Starting PillPack was a relatively natural evolution for me and a byproduct of a couple different things happening in my life at the time. I’d originally gone to pharmacy school with the belief that there was a lot of opportunity to improve the process of taking and managing medications. During school, I got fascinated with both design and technology — taking classes at MassArt and getting involved with some of the entrepreneurship initiatives happening over at MIT. Simultaneously, in the mid-2000’s, my Dad was running a pharmacy that had implemented a solution similar to PillPack but catering to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. I worked there during my school breaks and over time became more and more interested in the idea of offering a similar product and service to consumers living at home. After graduating, the idea of combining my interest in design and technology with this unique expertise led us to start PillPack.
What was one significant challenge that you have faced, and how did you overcome it? It’s hard to overstate the complexity associated with introducing a new product and service into the existing healthcare system. Even when you are not introducing a new cost to the system or a new business model, it can still be challenging to get approved to advertise online, navigate the state-by-state regulatory environment, deal with entrenched entities, and many other things. Thankfully, we have an incredible team and a supportive set of investors that have helped us work through these issues and we’ve been able to build a product and service that our customers love.
You’ve previously been named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and were recently dubbed one of the “Most Dynamic Young CEO’s in America” by Inc. Magazine. What is unique about your leadership style? We have the benefit of a real mission that our team can rally around every day, and my job as CEO is to do my best to make sure folks are able to be productive and successful in the diverse set of roles needed to help make that vision become a reality. The team we have at PillPack is incredibly talented and committed to the mission of helping our customers live healthier, better lives.
During Demo Day at HUBweek 2016, you were a finalist judge for the Impact Leader Pitch Competition. When the startups were pitching their ideas and companies, did you see yourself in any of them? What advice do you have for those just starting out? Of course — it was roughly four years ago that I was pitching PillPack publicly for the first time at an event not too dissimilar from HUBweek. I related to nearly everyone pitching in the finals in some capacity but was especially compelled by Antera’s vision of eliminating food allergies in infants through a convenient consumer solution (full disclosure: I have a partner with food allergies and an infant at home).
While studying for your Pharma degree, you also took some design courses at MassArt. In your role as Co-Founder and CEO of PillPack, how do your scientific and artistic inclinations intersect? Well, if we’re being technical — the one class I took at MassArt was pattern drafting, and to date, my excellent eye for designing dresses has not proven to be super useful. Joking aside, I have always been quite interested in design — from architecture, to furniture design, to industrial design. When you start a company, generally you gravitate towards the things you’re interested in, and so as the company has grown, design has always been something we focused on and cared a lot about. I think when you really get into it, pharmacy, and likely most of healthcare, has not been designed with the actual end user in mind at all. It’s evolved to cater to the needs of other stakeholders rather than the actual human receiving care. Between my own interests and the time the company spent working with IDEO early on, we’ve been able to build a culture that really thinks about what the experience feels like for our customers, and I think in some capacity you can trace that back to my early days just exploring things I was interested in at MassArt, like pattern drafting.
What does success look like to you five years from now? For PillPack? Success for me means I’m happy and healthy, working on things that I find meaningful and challenging. I wake up every day feeling lucky for the opportunity I’ve been given and excited about the people I work with. I hope in five years I’m as excited to come to work every day as I am today.
For PillPack, success is about continuing to refine our product and service as well as starting to think about additional value we can provide to our customers over time. Currently more than 35 million Americans take 5 prescriptions a month and we only currently serve a small fraction of that 35 million. Obviously the hope is that we are able to reach a significant portion of the population that needs a solution like PillPack.
What’s the best piece of professional advice that you’ve ever received? How has that contributed to your success? It’s not exactly professional advice per se, but there’s a great old clip of Steve Jobs that, when I first saw it when I was in college, started to change my perspective on work and life. This little nugget of truth contributed quite a bit to ultimately having the confidence to start something.
To learn more about PillPack and how they’re fixing pharmacy, visithere.
The HUBweek Change Maker series showcases the most innovative minds in art, science, and technology making an impact in Boston and around the world.