Top 3 Lessons In Creating A Truly Life-Changing Company

Dr. Tatiana Fofanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry, were recruited by the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute, the world’s largest medical center to identify its biggest issues in the geriatrics space. Along with her co-founders, Dr. Fofanova engaged in what she describes as an “exhaustive, full-time process of discovery,” where they were able to spend 6 months interviewing hundreds of physicians, administrators, and patients to find the root cause of this issue before a single line of code was ever written. And they determined it was communication.

Together, they started Koda Health – a digital platform using AI to guide difficult conversations between patients and providers, beginning with end-of-life care. Koda Health is a Techstars 2020 Alumni, tackling the awkward discussions that can prevent a patient from fully disclosing medical issues.

“While most medicine is conversational, some conversations are more awkward than others, and unfortunately, studies show that physicians explicitly avoid those topics with patients that come from a different cultural background than they do,” says Dr. Fofanova. “Using technology, we can apply anonymity to these conversations so the patient and physician can be more open and transparent.”

Having an innovative company, the Koda Health team has shared their top three lessons in creating a truly life-changing company.

Hire ‘Missionaries’ Over Mercenaries

For early-stage entrepreneurs and companies looking to hire “the best of the best,” it’s important to remember that putting the company’s mission first during the hiring process leads to better fitting hires for a company just starting out.

“One hiring strategy that has worked for us was hiring missionaries over mercenaries,” Dr. Fofanova revealed. “It’s good for morale and conveniently, capital efficient. You don’t need the latest and greatest ex-Uber or ex-Google employee as your first hire. At this point, those companies are well-oiled corporations with defined hierarchies. No part of that infrastructure exists in an early-stage company. You’ll need people who can tolerate ambiguity, changing priorities, and have a healthy dose of blind optimism to navigate through the more challenging obstacles. We’ve found that putting our mission first during the hiring process leads us to folks who are that great fit for an early stage company like us.”

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Innovate In The Untouched Spaces

For anyone innovating in their space, don’t be afraid to go after a pain point that is difficult to solve. This is usually where you can stand out and differentiate yourself from your competition. 

“For example, doctors are trained to diagnose and treat, but few have been trained to converse effectively with their patients. That’s why we’ve created a platform to address sensitive topics like death or drug use. The anonymity of technology can help medical professionals overcome that gut-wrenching feeling of bringing up the next talking point in an uncomfortable discussion,” notes Dr. Fofanova. “While most medicine is conversational, some conversations are more awkward than others, and unfortunately, studies show that physicians explicitly avoid those topics with patients that come from a different cultural background than they do. Because of this, we’ve noticed that 49% of African-American patients referred to us completed their advance care plans, effectively doubling the national average.”

Build A Network Of Highly-Qualified, Experienced Mentors Entrenched In Your Industry

It’s important to build and develop a really strong network of experienced, highly-qualified mentors that believe in you and are firmly entrenched in the space.

“Early on, we were so fortunate to have the unconditional support of Dr. Toby Hamilton, founder of Emerus and serial entrepreneur in the healthcare industry,” Dr. Fofanova shared. “He took us under his wing, pulled out his playbook, and opened up his network to us. A good mentor is worth their weight in gold. It was through him that we met Jamie Reynoso, chief operating officer of Clover, who doubled our network and helped us get into Techstars. From there, a few good mentors turned into a star studded advisory board of industry-leading executives, from Cerner to United Healthcare, that allowed us to approach conversations with authority. Mentors are the fast track to your success – bar none.”

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