“If You Have an Idea, or Want to Start a Company, Don’t Wait” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder
I had the pleasure of interviewing Zoë Barry, CEO and founder, ZappRx
Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?
Back in 2007, I started my career on Wall Street working at an independent broker-dealer, DeMatteo Monness, and later at the hedge fund Dawson Capital. While working on Wall Street, a family member was diagnosed with a rare, debilitating disease that required specialty care. During a six-month waiting process for this medication, my family member’s health significantly deteriorated. Upon receiving treatment their health improved dramatically, helping me to realize that I wanted to fix the deeply flawed specialty prescribing process. I became determined to solve the inefficiencies that prevented my family member and others, from receiving treatment.
I left Wall Street shortly after this epiphany and accepted a job at athenahealth in 2011. While I was at athenahealth, I quickly learned about the nuances of healthcare and my determination to come up with a solution to the flawed system intensified. I knew that I would not be able to fulfill my goals of helping patients by following someone else’s path; I needed to pave my own. As a result, I developed the idea for ZappRx and launched the company in 2012. Today, we have raised over $42 million in funding, including backing from VC firms such as Qiming US Healthcare Fund, GV, Atlas Venture, and SR One.
ZappRx employs over 50 people in our downtown Boston office. Beyond our corporate growth, we have quickly permeated the healthcare industry and are now impacting the lives of thousands of providers and patients. On average, patients suffering from debilitating diseases like Cystic Fibrosis (CF) can be forced to wait weeks to get their life-saving medications. ZappRx has reduced that time to five days or less.
Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I am extremely proud of the diverse and passionate team we’ve built at ZappRx. Our ability to attract and retain industry experts and veterans has been essential to our success. I am particularly impressed with the numerous female leaders on our growing executive team. Our strong female leadership is a product of a work environment in which women feel encouraged to voice their opinions without being told they are “emotionally influenced”. ZappRx strives to be a company in which all employees have the ability to voice their opinions without judgement — regardless if they’re right or wrong. In order to foster an environment of equal opportunity, we offer competitive salary opportunities — employees are able to choose their own salary and equity within a designated range. This allows employees to choose how they are compensated, either high cash or high equity, for the value they bring to ZappRx.
Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?
ZappRx is continuously working to improve and advance our core application that currently serves pulmonologists and their patients suffering from diseases like Cystic Fibrosis and Pulmonary Hypertension (PAH). Our success in pulmonology has presented us the opportunity to help those with other rare, life-threatening illnesses. Over the next few months, we will be launching into gastroenterology, neurology and rheumatology, as well as identifying other disease areas to develop applications for in 2019.
A major part of ZappRx company culture involves our summer intern program. Being under John Dawson’s wing as an intern, I learned the value of having a strong mentor to look to for guidance at the start of one’s career. I strive to ensure that ZappRx interns are tasked with projects that are of legitimate value to the company rather than plain administrative duties. It is imperative for companies like ZappRx to provide meaningful, career altering opportunities to younger generations. I have found that today’s young adults will not only rise to the challenges thrown at them but exceed expectations in the value they produce.
Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life?
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s actually a deeply personal story, but in one of the chapters he talks about how 45 percent of presidents and CEOs have lost a parent. My parents got divorced when I was young and I never saw my biological father again. Being raised by a strong, single working mother I quickly became resilient and
self-sufficient. I participated in individual sports like swimming, sailing and gymnastics, becoming captain of almost every team I joined. I then grew up to become a sole-founder. I have always felt it was safer to bet on myself rather than taking the risk of bringing on a partner. While my early loss of trust was painful at times, it made me into who I am today — a successful, young, female CEO and sole-founder.
Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1.Don’t be afraid to leverage perceived disadvantages to your advantage As a 26-year-old founder with no Master’s, M.D. or PhD. degree, it was often difficult to find people that would take me and my idea seriously. However, I wasn’t going to put the company on hold to earn degrees I knew I did not need simply because it was expected of me. Instead of going back to school, I brought experts to investor meetings who validated the importance of my idea. The extra support and third-party validation got people to listen.
2. If you have an idea or want to start a company, don’t wait: At 26, I wasn’t married and I didn’t have children. I had little commitments other than my passion to start ZappRx. I found it easier to start a company in my 20s because it wasn’t expected of me. As someone with a background in finance and little knowledge of the healthcare industry, my fear of asking for help was eliminated.
3. Build a peer-oriented support group: As I worked to build ZappRx, I also cultivated a strong professional peer network. The first-time founder network allows me to connect with other first-time founders in all industries, of all ages and personalities. The network has enabled me to discuss and brainstorm strategic hiring and business growth practices with a diverse group of founders.
4. Don’t be afraid to challenge people: As a young, female entrepreneur, I have often found myself being scrutinized or judged for having an aggressive attitude. I had to fight the common narrative that women should always be passive and polite and assert my agency as both a woman and the founder of a company. I encourage all young founders to leverage your passion and risk-hungry attitude to fuel your success.
5. Allow other people to solve the big problems: As a CEO and Founder, I originally thought it was my job to solve every problem that we stumbled upon as a company. Over the years, I have found it more beneficial to not be afraid to delegate problem solving to others. As a CEO, it’s difficult to take a step back and ask for help. However, in order to ensure that your team learns to work cohesively to achieve your business objectives it is essential to evenly distribute responsibility.
Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I would love the opportunity to sit down with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief, to talk about how he makes decisions for such a huge conglomerate that has ultimately changed the market, especially in healthcare. In particular, it would be fascinating to hear his insight on Amazon’s recent decision to acquire PillPack and what his vision is for healthcare. Let’s chat, Jeff!
— Published on June 27, 2018