Founder/Chief Executive Officer
Cloud 9 Psych
Our enterprise healthcare customers all share one major problem not solved by electronic health records (EHRs): "No continuous communication with patients outside the clinic". Cloud 9 keeps patients continually connected to their behavioral health care team via our closed loop proprietary communication tool of "Talk, Test, Track". Providers can better manage ongoing care and divert patient crises, which expands access, improves outcomes, and increases margins at healthcare enterprises.
HTA - What was your first job? What did you learn, that is still relevant in leading Cloud 9?
Well I grew up on a farm, so my first job was lots of dirt and sunshine. This certainly taught me the physical and mental health benefits of being connected to nature. As a teenager, I also began breaking and training people’s horses to earn money. I have a great love for horses, but that intense and dangerous work taught me the importance of a career path with fewer injuries and broken bones.
I received my undergrad degree in Entrepreneurship at Baylor University. Fascinated with technology, my first startup was a social network I launched in 1994, focusing on university students, much like how Facebook launched years later. We had trouble with advertising sales way back then, and I learned a very important business lesson. The number one contributing factor to a startup’s success is… timing.
HTA - What about the other companies you founded?
I launched my second company, Expert Media in 1996, which was an early success in web development, hosting and digital marketing. I launched a third venture, called Vector in 2001 with mentor Wayne Swearingen of Barclay Commercial, where I applied my technology experience within commercial real estate services industry. I launched my fourth company, Bless Me in 2011 with Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, who was the founder of Nighthawk Radiology, to deliver non-licensed counseling services, remotely to the masses via a telephonic Telehealth model.
HTA - So what inspired the creation of Cloud9?
The inspiration actually came just before launching the previous company, Bless Me. In 2009, I lost a close friend to rapid onset of bipolar disorder. He would be the fourth friend I had lost to mental illness, as I also lost three family members over the years as well. Losing seven close loved ones was painful.
As mental illnesses occur, they painfully disrupt the lives of friends and family. I’ve had a lifetime of experience on the patient side of this disability, and know the barriers to receiving care. There’s not enough funding, insurance, providers, meds or public awareness campaigns. Cultural stigma makes us feel ashamed or embarrassed to ever say I need help in the first place. Society has historically turned our back on healthcare from the neck up, and our communities have suffered.
Mental illness accounts for 20% of all healthcare costs globally, yet governments only allocate 3% of healthcare budgets to address the issue. And how can we afford to not treat it? Recent studies show that every $1 invested in population mental health can produce an ROI of $3 to $5 to that nation’s GDP. It’s good standard economics, it’s good behavioral economics. A happy workforce is a productive workforce. Leading employers have certainly been catching on to this truth in recent years.
HTA - What was Cloud 9’s journey like to get where you are today?
Cloud 9 began under tight circumstances. My previous company Bless Me was forced to shut down because of irreconcilable co-founder issues. This new venture began with only myself, a pitch deck and very few assets in place. The market opportunity to move into clinical behavioral services had come, and a robust, secure technology platform was needed. I launched the company through a healthcare IT accelerator called Health Wildcatters, to fast track the business model.
After laying that foundation, I began recruiting the initial team members. We released the first prototype of the company’s mobile application, which was built as a marketplace solution connecting consumers and independent psychiatrists, therapists and counselors. After gaining vital product development feedback and testing that business model, we realized the customer acquisition cost and service cost were higher than expected. We always wanted to serve larger enterprises, so we made a firm decision to pivot the company to enterprise SaaS.
We initially targeted large health system clients, and gained some solid healthcare IT vendor experience. However, those sales cycles proved way too long for our early product to make it. We moved on, testing our value prop with a wide array of enterprise customers. Today, we can still serve a variety of enterprises, by finding optimal targets within the community health and public safety ecosystems. We now have a solid product market fit.
HTA - How do you define Leadership?
Leaders eat last. Leaders also speak last… and listen first. There’s always a fair amount of cheer-leading going on. Chief Executive Officer does not accurately describe my role in this particular point in time, nor do most C titles at early stage. Everyone on the management team must be crossed trained to wear many different magic hats and juggle many rabbits.
My title is mostly Chief Make It Happen Officer, with a lot of Make Everyone Happy Officer along the way. Support everyone internally and externally as much as possible, solve problems creatively, and rely on resourcefulness over resources.
Our team is like a family. We strive to have the synergy of a seasoned military unit. When you get this dynamic right, everyone feels invincible. We have the skill, trust and loyalty to march into any battle, and our fight against mental illness is a big one.
HTA - When you are recruiting team members at Cloud 9, what do you look for?
Third on my list is to seek “A Players” that are far more capable than anyone else at their particular role. Secondly, I want personalities that fit our culture, while remaining open minded and teachable about what they do not yet know. And the #1 thing I look for in a team member is passion for our mission and the work we’re doing.
This is my first pure healthcare IT company, and passion for Cloud 9’s mission is the main reason I’ve been able to recruit entrepreneurs and senior executives, with experience spanning Humana Behavioral Health, UnitedHealthcare, Baylor Healthcare System, UC Irvine Medical Center, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Memorial Hermann, Pfizer, Computer Associates, Deloitte, Accenture and Allscripts.
HTA - How do you learn? What are you reading?
Lots of videos from TED, TED Med and Singularity University. Newsletters from HIMSS, Open Minds, Rock Health and Springwise. The best book I’ve read on the industry to date is still Catastrophic Care by David Goldhill.
HTA - What has surprised you about the Health Care industry?
Learning more and more large sectors of healthcare that are still reluctant to innovate because of their entrenched business models. These are nothing more than fiefdoms, with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. To borrow a phrase from Athena Health, “More Disruption Please…”
HTA - What is your secret to attracting investors?
Just that… Attract them. Don’t chase them unless you absolutely must. And most entrepreneurs must, as they are not able to self fund through early development to product market fit and reach attractiveness.
After that we let our product, biz model, market opportunity and team speak for themselves. Show investors our blood, sweat and tears. We are all in, and will never, never, never stop till we succeed at our mission… while making them a strong return on investment.
HTA - Where do you want Cloud 9 to be in three years?
A futurist can see the general trends, but never gets the exact details right. For now, Cloud 9 stays focused like a laser on the immediate mission to help our enterprises and their patients. In three years, there’s a possibility we could be mostly on target with our plan and projections. The details will change. What we can keep on course is our macro, longer term goals, to expand behavioral health services throughout large segments of the population.
We will release the long list of innovations we’ve planned, but only when the time is right. We certainly plan for our product to continue breaking the stigma around mental illnesses and behavioral healthcare. Our patient success stories will continue to spread far and wide. We plan to continue building a trusted brand while making the world a better place, one mind at a time. Cloud 9 works on a dual bottom line, to both do good and do well. That’s the compass that keeps us on course.