Canopy’s CEO on the journey to market validation, acquiring their first US customer, and thoughts on being a solo founder.
We are excited to take you under the hood of our portfolio company Canopy, which launched the first Intelligent Care Platform (ICP) for oncology — a full suite of intelligent, electronic health record-integrated tools to help cancer centers continuously engage with their patients, streamline clinical workflows, and generate new revenue streams for their meaningful work. UpWest was Canopy’s first investor in 2018 and continues to support the company as it grows and reaches new heights.
We sat down for a chat with Lavi Kwiatkowsky, Canopy’s Founder & CEO, to discuss his experience building Canopy and why a proactive care delivery model is not only possible but also highly effective in oncology.
Tell us about your background. Why did you decide to work on Canopy?
I have been working in tech my entire adult life. I spent six years working on complex data projects with the Israeli intelligence forces and after that a few more years in data and research roles in various tech startups. My journey to healthtech started following an accident, which took me on my own personal encounter with the broken medical system, and where I realized how much room there is still for improving care through technology. Also at that time, a few of my family members were suffering from cancer and being treated in hospitals. Observing their journeys, I noticed a huge gap in patient monitoring and continuity of care outside of their doctor’s office. This missing piece was specifically compelling to me with respect to oncology patients because of the potential to save lives.
How does Canopy impact oncology caregivers and patients?
Today we know that the majority of oncology patients will, at some point during treatment, feel poorly or experience symptoms and problems between appointments — which can sometimes be life threatening. Unfortunately, only about 10% of those people will inform their medical care team about the symptoms, as they don’t consider them a good enough reason to contact or “bother” their doctor; very often, those patients end up in the ER with much bigger issues due to lack of early detection/reporting, which can result in avoidable hospital bills, treatment discontinuation, and ultimately lower survival chances.
At Canopy, our mission is to ensure that every patient with cancer gets the maximum benefit and experience from their treatment. We are a team of just over 20 employees and have raised $13 million in Seed and Series A funding rounds.
Our Intelligent Care Platform (ICP) is a suite of software tools built to optimize care delivery: it empowers cancer centers to transition from episodic, office-based care to continuous, streamlined care delivery. If you look at cancer centers, they have multiple systems involved within the care delivery cycle: operational, clinical, financial and so forth. These are a mix of point solutions, spreadsheets, and manual work. We simplify their work by automating processes, bringing information to their fingertips, and providing the ability to capture new revenue. That continuity of care beyond the walls of practice allows for a better experience for everyone involved, but more importantly, has better outcomes for patients.
How did you identify your market segment? How did you validate and acquire your first customer?
Being based in the US from the very early days of Canopy, I was able to engage firsthand with different prospects. I can’t stress enough how important it was for me as an early-stage founder to meet my customers, truly live in my market, attend industry conferences, and interact face-to-face with people in the ecosystem. Keeping ‘high-touch’ with prospects was essential in building strong relationships, establishing trust and understanding our customers’ pain points, their needs and expectations.
Equally important, it helped us quickly grasp the variability between the different segments in the market. For example, our engagement with America’s “big names” — Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and UCSF medical centers — taught us that despite the size of the opportunity, we were likely to risk our product’s replicability. Moreover, the long sales cycles, and feedback loops were concerning to us. This made us turn to the other 50% of the market — community oncology practices — which were more suitable for our solution and what we want to accomplish.
Once we identified the right segment for us, we began outbound marketing. We created a LinkedIn campaign and interviewed hundreds of nurses, nursing managers, doctors, and cancer center CEOs to validate their pain points and see if they would be interested in our solution. One of these CEOs really stood out in that he was responsive and engaged, and quickly said that he would love to try our solution when we’re ready to deploy it. When we did, I met him in-person, and we had a signed contract within 30 days. I can’t stress enough the value of early adopters and design partners — folks who are open-minded and willing to try innovative new solutions. The right partners will always be those who are experts in the space and who are excited to work with you for the value of the product.
What surprised you about the US healthcare market and its dynamics?
First, I was surprised that there are more decision-making variables that may seem less logical from the outside, but they actually make complete sense once you’re an insider.
Second, showing you improve care isn’t enough as an incentive to buy — we had to come up with a business model that shows clear and direct ROI for the buyers.
Third, even if you do put that type of model in place, the level of evidence in medicine is extremely high — unlike in other domains where case studies could serve as a good validation, healthcare tech would require higher standards of proof.
Lastly, even just reaching all of those standards isn’t enough since at the end of the day, you need to deliver a solution that simplifies your customer’s life, not vice versa, and there comes the part where you need to design better workflows and “easy to start” products.
However, there are also good surprises. We were able to engage with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and provide input on the importance of remote monitoring in oncology. We published research supporting our claims, and they believed the evidence, our study included, eventually incorporating that into a new payment model as a requirement. I’m amazed and humbled that insights gained from our company can contribute to shaping healthcare regulations. Such opportunities in the US market are very unique and different from any other place in the world.
You are Canopy’s sole founder. Can you tell us more about this experience from your perspective?
It’s incredibly hard to start a company. By definition. You have to be doing something so different that most people think it is destined to fail. When I started the company, people were skeptical about investors’ desire to fund a single founder. It wasn’t my experience though. The one thing I do see is that they care about other leadership factors. So even though you’re a single founder, people care that you have a leadership team and make sure to surround yourself with strong managers and executives. It’s very much about building your team rather than necessarily co-founders; there are things that can augment and improve the experience and the team, and it could lead to a similar outcome as if you had co-founders. For founders who choose to bring a co-founder, my advice would be bringing someone with a very different skill set than yours.
What is your long-term vision for the company?
We want to grow and work towards our vision where every person with cancer gets the best outcome that is biologically possible. We’ve shown we can reduce hospitalizations by 22%, and keep patients on their treatment plan as much as 45% longer, which is just humbling. In the coming years our focus is to both increase that benefit, as well as increase the number of patients we impact through partnerships with more cancer centers. We believe we can realistically get to 30% of the US market in the next 4–5 years.
Canopy is currently hiring for R&D roles in Israel and business-side roles in the US. You can find their current openings here.
Are you ideating or actively building an early-stage startup targeting the US market? It’s never too early to chat with us — drop us a line here.