Persistence and the Need to be Ready
Silvia Pfeiffer is the CEO of Coviu Global, a telehealth company that was forced to scale rapidly during the Covid-19 crisis to meet demand. Here, she shares tips about how to make sure that your company is also prepared to scale.
What do you do when your company suddenly has the demand that you’ve always imagined? Are you ready for it? Are you able to scale your technology and operations 80x?
This is what happened to me and my company, Coviu, during the COVID-19 crisis. We were ready for the growth and executed on it. But things could have been very different. Here are the three things we did to make sure we were prepared:
- Scaling the team. Coviu sells telehealth software to healthcare businesses to enable them to offer digital health services to their patients online. Our assumption was that a large number of healthcare businesses will want to offer telehealth to their patients and are looking for a software solution. During COVID-19, when social isolation was introduced and subsequently Medicare reimbursements for telehealth services, our vision came true overnight. We went from a niche solution to mainstream within just a couple of days. Before COVID-19, we worked as a small team of 3 across marketing, sales, customer success and product management. We introduced a lot of digital tools to help us do our job. It’s these tools that would help us scale from 3 to 20 people within the course of 2 weeks while only slightly losing on customer relationship quality. Before the pandemic, we used online text chat, phone calls, one-on-one video demos and email to communicate with our customers. During the height of the pandemic, we replaced one-on-one demos with webinars, converted the phone line to a call centre and completely focused on scaling up the online text chat as the main support line. Plus I also immediately hired a Virtual Assistant to keep on top of my email. All of this helped us scale from 10 customer conversations a day to up to 800 customer conversations a day while maintaining a high customer conversation rating of 85%. We hired the team in-house because it was faster to train up than an outsourced call centre would have been. All the young capable people that we hired are now part of our product, customer success, sales and marketing teams and they are better at their jobs because they had the direct customer contact.
- Scaling the technology. With our foresight of the market, we prepared for the day when telehealth would be the norm with our technology as well. We developed all of our software and infrastructure technology in-house and relied on the AWS cloud functionality for scalability. Never before has a software solution been tested more harshly in production than ours! We had to scale from delivering 400 video calls a day to 25,000 a day within the course of 2 weeks. Our infrastructure setup scaled beautifully. Some deeply complicated system errors were discovered and fixed quickly because we had the inhouse development team that had the capability and responsibility to fix and deploy our technology. We survived scaling issues with minimal outages. Had we developed our software as a non-scalable MVP, outsourced our software engineering and outsourced infrastructure support, we would have been dead in the water. Taking these precautions ensured that we would be ready to scale rapidly when our time came.
- Cash management. Amongst all the scaling issues, one thing I needed to watch carefully was our cash status. Fortunately, I had kept some cash reserves in the bank for about 3 months of runway. I was immediately able to spend that cash on increased server costs as well as hiring. That was sufficient to support the growth and bridge the time until that growth turned into income — we have free trials, so there is a delay until money comes in from new customers. Being ready to scale and grow means you need to anticipate future needs, and prepare for that financially. It’s difficult if you are a startup that only just survives month-on-month. There is another option for such situations, of course: we were offered investment straight away as growth hit. As the CEO, however, when you are in the thick of managing growing pains, you don’t really have the time to spend on investor relationships. We were lucky enough to have our board help out with investor relations and soon closed a convertible note and are now in the process of closing our Series A round. The latter is what requires my full attention now that we have scaling under control.
For years we had been developing towards an expectation that many users would use our system and that we needed to be ready to scale. That persistence paid off. Even if you are not preparing for an 80x increase in customers within two weeks, you should continuously strive to improve the automation and scalability of your business. Doing so is the best thing you can do to both save money and prepare for success.
What would be your “pandemic” moment?
Dr. Silvia Pfeiffer is the CEO of Coviu Global. Silvia is a repeat entrepreneur, previously having founded a Web video analytics company and now Coviu, a telehealth turnkey solution for private practice. Coviu is the innovator in telehealth and it does so by providing medical tools in a video visit that help clinicians to really transform the way they deliver healthcare. Silvia has more than 20 years of experience with Web video businesses having worked in technology innovation for Google, Mozilla, NICTA, and CSIRO. She co-edited the standards that made video a prime citizen of the Web and underpin not just the likes of Netflix and YouTube, but also her startup Coviu. Silvia has a PhD in computer science, a masters in business management, has published two books on HTML5 video and most recently one for healthcare businesses to help them set up video consultations sustainably.