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Patty Riskind of Orbita: Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup

An Interview With Paul Moss

The first step to establish a successful business is to gain a clear understanding of the customer’s or industry’s problem(s). Do your homework to understand the needs of your target audience. In healthcare and life sciences, Orbita has identified challenges and gaps in the patient care journey related to access to care, affordability, and treatment adherence.

Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.

Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?

In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Patty Riskind, the CEO of Orbita.

Patty Riskind is a dynamic healthcare tech leader with demonstrated success developing innovative analytic software products, selling digital solutions, streamlining operational processes, supporting C-level clients, and managing high performance teams. She has achieved exponential growth with both small and large companies, reengineered stagnant operations, and energized company cultures for expansion and growth.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My father has said that I was born with “smoke coming out of my ears!” I guess from a young age I have had the drive and desire to make a difference in the world. I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but it took me a while to find the right timing and business idea. I attended Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management for my MBA, and while there I took an entrepreneurship class. I had to write a business plan for that class and pitch it to potential investors. My business plan was about creating a “consumer reports” for healthcare and while I didn’t implement my idea fresh out of graduate school, that business plan heavily influenced my career path.

After working for several small healthcare tech and consulting companies that I saw grow and either sell, merge, or go public, I realized I could do the same. In 2002 I started a healthcare consulting company that focused on ambulatory strategy helping hospitals and radiologists structure joint ventures for free standing imaging centers. While being a consultant was lucrative, I knew I wanted to generate revenue while I was sleeping versus only selling my time. As a result, I left the consulting business, hired a developer, and created the industry’s first electronic patient survey solution (ala Survey Monkey for healthcare), starting a company called PatientImpact in 2004.

PatientImpact grew rapidly and delivered real time patient and provider feedback to outpatient entities (e.g., imaging centers, medical practices, ambulatory surgery centers, retail clinics) using email as the distribution method for electronic surveys. After boot strapping the business for 5 years, I realized I had to raise capital. Through the process of talking to over 70 VCs, angels, strategics, I received an offer from my biggest competitor to acquire my company…which I ended up taking.

Press Ganey acquired PatientImpact in 2009. I transitioned from being an entrepreneur to being a corporate citizen, ultimately becoming Press Ganey’s Chief Experience Officer. In 2015 I helped take the company public, and then back private in 2016. It was an incredible experience quadrupling the company over 7+ years! I left Press Ganey in 2016 and worked with several early stage companies and served on some venture backed boards.

In 2018, Qualtrics, an experience management company, recruited me to be Global Head of Healthcare. I successfully grew the Qualtrics platform 435% over 2 years, helping healthcare providers, payers, and life science companies improve customer, employee, and brand experience.

While I enjoyed my time working for larger entities, early stage, I realized I missed the energy and fun that comes from being part of an early-stage company. In May, 2021 I joined Orbita as CEO. I am extremely excited about Orbita’s ability to use conversational AI to streamline workflows, improve care coordination, and assist with health management and maintenance.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to your current company? Can you share that story with us?

I had a desire to return to an early-stage business where I could really impact and transform the delivery of care and services. Orbita is uniquely positioned to improve virtual interactions using intelligent voice, chatbots, and contextual SMS and email messages — to meet patients and providers where they are — to help them better navigate and manage encounters across the entire healthcare journey. The ability to help make using and interacting with the healthcare system — from access to utilization to ongoing health management — was very exciting to me.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey? Can you share a story with us?

I’ve had many ups, downs, twists, and turns throughout my career — and life in general — but I remain persistent and committed to doing the right thing and reaching my goals. My father gave me the best advice I’ve ever received, ‘The worst thing they can do is fire you, and if they do, you’ll find something else.’ This inspired me to take risks, be resilient, and know that despite things being difficult at times, I would always find a way forward.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Orbita’s virtual assistants provide digital experiences with a human touch. We are driven to provide intuitive natural language experiences that are simple to engage, easy to manage, and can scale to the largest populations. Orbita’s virtual assistants empower healthcare providers, payers, and life science organizations to streamline workflows and simplify access, helping customers and employees better navigate across the entire care journey.

Finding and scheduling a first time visit with a physician can be frustrating! Orbita can help a patient 1) identify the right physician specialty to treat their specific ailment, 2) provider facts and insights to help a patient pick the right physician for them, 3) identify the closest practice location, 4) schedule the appointment, 5) empower the patient to complete any pre-visit paperwork online, 6) send reminders about the appointment (or reschedule or cancel), and 7) follow up, post-visit to assist with placing prescription orders, answering outstanding questions, and more. Orbita does this through SMS, email, smart speaker voice, using the best communication channel for the patient.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Throughout my career I have tried to make life better for patients, providers, and suppliers. By leveraging technology to streamline workflows, simplify encounters, and incorporate empathy into automation, my goal has been to improve care delivery by listening to those receiving and giving care.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Risk taking — not being afraid to fail. By starting a company, I knew I didn’t have a safety net, but went for it.
  • Resilience — I’ve learned to pivot and adapt to adjust to what the market and customers need and want.
  • Being Charming — Being empathetic and kind results in others wanting to work with you.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

I am generally a high energy and enthusiastic person, bringing passion to almost everything that I do. A previous boss told me I needed to “modulate” and temper my approach. I tried, but did not do a very good job of modulating. I believe my attitude and energy are some of my greatest strengths as a leader, and it has gotten me to where I am today. Today, I encourage my team to be authentic and never dissuade passion and enthusiasm — instead I encourage it!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

As the founder of PatientImpact, I carried the weight of the company’s success on my shoulders. I mortgaged my house, didn’t pay myself for 5 years, sometimes struggled to make payroll. I was responsible for the livelihood of my employees, and I took that seriously, so we had to make it!

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?

For me, giving up was never an option. Being nimble, listening to the market and needs of customers, and enlisting an advisory board helped me survive the challenges. My advisory board served dual purposes of providing insight and business advice as well as providing networking and introductions to potential customers and investors.

The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?

The emotional highs consist of getting that first sale, releasing a product after working on it for months, securing a term sheet after hundreds of pitches to investors. I won an entrepreneur pitch competition where I competed against 100 other entrepreneurs. I received a $70k prize — that was a thrill!

Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?

First, I would ask them what their end goal is. Do they want to build a lifestyle company? Do they want to build a company with the goal of eventually selling? Do they want to build a company that will be there for the long haul? Depending on their goals, fundraising would vary. The best revenue is customer revenue — and it is easier to raise money from investors if you have customers…so first and foremost, I encourage securing a few customers to validate the product/service and demand in the market. If fast growth is an imperative, taking venture capital will help accelerate that, recognize that giving up equity is par for the course with VCs.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need to Create a Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

  1. The first step to establish a successful business is to gain a clear understanding of the customer’s or industry’s problem(s). Do your homework to understand the needs of your target audience. In healthcare and life sciences, Orbita has identified challenges and gaps in the patient care journey related to access to care, affordability, and treatment adherence.
  2. After identifying the problem your product addresses, you’ll need to deliver a solution that ideally is new and creates beneficial change. Orbita’s solution provides ways to streamline workflows leading to more efficient processes, improved patient experience, and better outcomes.
  3. With a problem and a solution, it is then essential to acquire customers who will be evangelists for your company. Securing customers who will pay for your solution and rave about the return on investment they have achieved creates credibility and will lead to more customers. Orbita successfully deployed a COVID-19 vaccine scheduling solution that saved a client 12 FTEs (over $1 million) by reducing the dependence on people and call center resources.
  4. Creating repeatable and scalable solutions ensures you can scale. Focusing on a differentiated solution that can be replicated, allowing for cost efficiency and speed to market, ensures growth. Orbita’s platform allows for out-of-the-box solutions to allow customers to implement quickly and to self-manage, encouraging expanded use of Orbita across an enterprise.
  5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is to assemble a team of dedicated, diverse trailblazers to bring your goals to fruition. A strong team that brings a variety of perspectives and experiences will help grow the company faster.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

A very common mistake among CEOs and founders is their inability to relinquish control. This hinders the business from ever growing past this one person and can lead to tunnel vision. A startup needs to be nourished by diverse ideas and backgrounds that push back on the status quo.

Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?

My best advice would be to find the balance, but that’s easier said than done, right? The key to a successful career, without sacrificing your mental and physical wellness is to identify those activities, people, or places that bring you happiness and peace. For me, exercise is incredibly important for my mind and my body, so I make sure to prioritize time for working out and schedule it on my calendar.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My goal is to revolutionize access to healthcare and make quality care easily attainable for all people. Orbita is committed to helping providers, payers, and life sciences use intelligent, automated, conversational virtual assistants that empathetically help patients, providers, and employees navigate the care journey.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

I would love to sit down for a meal with Michelle Obama. Through her Reach Higher initiative and Let’s Move! campaign, Michelle changed lives for the better and she has done it all with humor, elegance, and compassion. She is also a fellow Chicagoan!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can keep up with Orbita through our podcast, Conversations with Orbita, our blogs, webinars, and white papers on LinkedIn and our website, orbita.ai.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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