Don’t Be Afraid to Dream Bigger
Thomaz Srougi, Founder and CEO, dr.consulta | Season 1, Episode 5
By Roy Steiner, Senior Director of Learning and Impact at Omidyar Network
“ ‘Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.’ — I read that quote from Sarah Bernhardt and it was at that moment where I began questioning everything I was doing to that point.” — Thomaz Srougi
Entrepreneurs start companies for a variety of different reasons. For Thomaz Srougi, the motivation to turn an idea into a business came from seeing the need from within his own community and reflecting on how he wanted to spend his time.
Thomaz had spent his early career in banking and private equity. After reading Sarah Bernhardt’s quote, Thomaz decided to refocus his time and effort, and devote himself to improving the lives of the 100 million people living in his country of Brazil without timely access to quality medical care. He started dr.consulta to provide all Brazilians with affordable, quality healthcare, and today, the company operates 25 medical centers across Sao Paulo, servicing more than 80,000 patients each month.
Here’s what we learned from Thomaz.
Experimentation and time is required to build something great
“We started dr.consulta purely just as an experiment. We weren’t sure we would be successful. We broke down our experiment into three phases: First we created a concept and tested it. Second, we made sure the concept would work for a large number of people. Third, once we validated the concept and validated that the market was huge, we fine-tuned the business model. It took us three years to do this.
After that, we shifted our focus to figuring out how to replicate the model, and we understood that implementing IT systems, software, and technology would make scaling long-term possible. But initially, we didn’t even realize we’d become a technology company, in addition to a medical company. We really didn’t know if the business would succeed beyond a testing phase, so we waited awhile before investing heavily in technology.
Today, we are more than a network of medical centers. We are now a healthcare medical company. We are using technology and data to improve the care of the patients we service, and we have shown to have reduced the cost of healthcare by over 30%.”
PR and customer awareness really matter
“Access to healthcare in Brazil is a huge problem. So when I founded dr.consulta, I just assumed, ‘If the problem is that big, we’ll just open a medical center and patients will start flowing in.’ But when we opened our doors, no one showed up.
During our first year, even though we were working really hard, we only saw about 10–20 patients each month. We almost decided to close our doors and shut down the company. But then one day, a journalist from a major Brazilian newspaper wrote an article about dr.consulta. That’s when everything changed — demand more than tripled from one month to the next. We realized that we had identified a huge constraint to growth, which was awareness. After the article was published, we put together a plan to build customer awareness, and that changed everything for us!”
Be clear on your vision and that will help you prioritize decisions along the journey
“We see problems everywhere and opportunities, but which of those opportunities are both important and urgent? I always tell my team, ‘If it is not both important and urgent, it’s not your priority.’ What helped a lot was having a really strong vision of where we were going and the potential paths to getting there. As long as you stage the way, it gets way easier in terms of deciding what is a priority and what isn’t a priority. This makes the journey a lot easier.”
Hire well so you can make yourself useless
“We are where we are because we’ve been able to attract and retain big brains that are complements to ours. Hiring is like a Tetris game. You need different pieces to make it grow effectively.
You also have to understand what people want and what kind of people you want at the company. We want people who share the same values. What we value is improving our surroundings, making the world a better place for the people we serve, leaving a great legacy. We want people who share those values and have the same mindset.
I spend most of my time meeting people and searching for talent. I have great people that help me screen. If you bring A players, A players bring more A players because their benchmark is way higher. If you bring someone that is not an A player, that has a strong negative effect on the quality of the people that you will be attracting and the quality of the work that you will produce.
We are very good at attracting people who are aligned to our vision and our mission, but we’re also very good and fast about letting people who are not aligned with us go. That’s extremely important to sustaining a high performance culture.
Also, remember that no one can build a company by themselves. One of my partners says, ‘Hire well and manage less.’ My goal is to be useless inside dr.consulta. If I get there, I’ll have been successful, meaning everybody else is so productive and they don’t need me anymore. That’s my end goal.”
It’s critical to establish a culture of honesty and transparency
“We practice immediate feedback at dr.consulta — it’s ingrained in our company culture. Everyone practices ownership and extreme transparency. So for instance, if I’m not telling you that something is wrong, it’s because nothing’s wrong. You can be sure of that.
We’re also really focused on aligning expectations upfront. So whenever someone new joins the team, we make it clear that it’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to be honest. We want everyone to be totally open, because doing so is in everyone’s best interest.”
It’s extremely important to collect and analyze data to help you make optimal decisions
“Collecting data is really important. Otherwise, we’d have no way of knowing what’s working and what’s not. When we were just starting out, we collected all of our customer data manually and organized it with Excel. Today, thankfully, it’s fully automated. So when a physician closes a patient’s digital file, our system sends a message to the patient. He or she grades the physician and our staff, and my team and I then review that feedback daily. We can see the grades per physician, per medical center, for the entire network, so that we can identify problems and act on it.
We have a very strong data-driven culture. Everybody has opinions, but you can think A, I can think B, and we’re never going to reach a conclusion unless we have facts and data to support whatever we think is correct. There’s no way you can manage or make effective decisions if you don’t have data. We have to measure everything.
Historically, the relationship between healthcare and data hasn’t been close enough, but it’s very clear there’s no way you can do healthcare management well if you don’t have data. Lowering healthcare costs, bettering patient experiences, improving medical results — all of that’s based on data and results.”
Don’t be afraid to dream bigger
“I’ve always liked to dream big because it’s costless, but I don’t think I’ve dreamed big enough in the beginning. Thinking back to the very beginning of founding my company, I wish I could tell my younger self to dream bigger.
Brazilians tend to think that people from other countries are better than them. We downplay ourselves a lot. But entrepreneurs from emerging countries are just as competent as those from wealthy countries. All you really need is a belief in yourself and a great work ethic. I really wish I had trusted myself more in the beginning, because when I look back today, everything we’ve accomplished is truly amazing. And maybe we could have done even more if we dreamed bigger.”
The dream is worth it to leave behind a great legacy
“I loved the intellectual challenge when I used to be a trader. It’s great, but at the same point, when you profit in a trading, it’s because you’re buying low and selling high. If you’re selling high, someone is buying high. There’s a trade‑off. You win. Someone loses. It’s how it works.
What we do is a bit different. When we win, someone else is winning. It’s a different dynamic.
I eventually realized that I could better use my time and my resources to improve Brazil. We’re improving healthcare, but we’re only just beginning. There’s a lot of work. Everything we do, especially in Brazil, has a huge impact because we lack success stories and successful role models in Brazil.
Every small effort that you make and you get to inspire others, it’s like energy that is creating more energy. That’s powerful.”