InnaMed was really the brainchild of you and your co-founder. Any secrets to finding a great partner?
My co-founder Anup Singh and I met while at UPenn. We were both working on our degree—him biophysics and me bioengineering—and we happened to be in the same lab working on cutting edge point of care diagnostics. We quickly developed a friendship outside of work.
Since we met in a lab, we started out purely focused on the tech aspects of the business; we wanted to explore what we could develop with our skills and bonded over our ambitious goals. We always bounce ideas off of each other and are never afraid to challenge and give feedback to one another. This is key when finding a great co-founder.
How did InnaMed get started?
While in the lab, Anup and I noticed that the immediate application of our research was lacking; other than the glucometer there was no widely adopted solution that leveraged the newfound portability of diagnostics to readily improve patient care for chronic illnesses. While we saw this from the tech side, we also experienced this in real life outside of the lab. At the time, I was volunteering at a local VA hospital and saw the difficulties of living with chronic disease and the complexities and uncertainties of the treatments that went into those conditions.
We knew there was a way to bring these worlds together; that the technology we were developing in the lab could improve patient care and bring it into the home setting. That was our goal when starting InnaMed.
Was it challenging to leave the lab and shift from the tech to the business?
The switch from creator to founder was pretty jarring for us. There were a lot of things from the business standpoint that we had to learn on the go. For example, we had to learn about raising funding, licensing technology, hiring, navigating the regulatory and reimbursement pathways in healthcare, etc. Luckily, we were accepted into two accelerators—Boomtown Healthcare and Y Combinator—those really helped us get the skills and knowledge we needed to grow as a business.
In a sense, it was very humbling; you realize you’ve worked on the technology for a while only to discover that the tech is only one part of a successful business, and that there are these other crucial elements—the team and culture, revenue model, distribution etc.—that are important to build. You have to be successful and innovative in each area.
As a founder, you sometimes think that if the tech is great, that the other elements will work themselves out, but you quickly realize that’s not the case. For me, figuring that out and using the network and expertise of the accelerators to work through understanding each of those components was really useful.
What was the greatest takeaway from participating in the accelerators?
The biggest area of growth for me was defining the value chain and being able to connect it to a viable business model. In healthcare, there are many actors: the providers, the payers, the patients. Gaining a clear understanding of the value chain—what you provide to each party and how you can capture that creatively to build a strong business model—was extremely valuable to learn.
It also took a lot of practice. Our original business model was direct to the consumer. We were looking at fitness markets, like FitBit users and others, and then pivoted to chronic disease, in particular cancer treatment. We then realized that was not the best first market—the need for at home blood testing was still poorly defined and genomics seemed to have a strong foothold already—so we switched to heart failure and that’s where the incentives aligned really well.
Accelerators also concentrate a lot of experience in one place. We had access to founders like Diego Rey from GeneWeave (acquired by Roche) and Scott Dylla from Stemcentrx who had navigated these questions before. We were able to bring on external executives as consultants or team members, and we’ve leveraged our network and the brainpower of others to bolster areas where we previously didn’t have experience. Our mentors at YC were Paul Buchheit and Jared Friedman, the creators of Gmail and Scribd, respectively, and they provided invaluable guidance from bureaucratic matters like hiring and firing to strategic matters like fundraising. The highlight of YC was probably listening to the founders of Airbnb, WhatsApp, Shopify and others tell the stories of how they were founded and the trials and tribulations of reaching success.
Have you learned anything unexpected about yourself by launching this business?
The first thing I learned with my co-founder is that we are a really good team together. Anup is all about optimism and perseverance and he’s great at networking. I’m more of a realist and love to brainstorm and create. We are constantly learning from one another.
What is your superpower?
I’ve always demonstrated great attention to detail, and I think this let’s me connect ideas from different disciplines to draw conclusions that normally may go unnoticed. As an example, the idea to leverage microneedle technology for at-home patient testing came out of being aware of emerging technologies in the industry, cognizant of factors affecting patient adherence and knowledgeable about the amount of blood needed to achieve clinical accuracy for our multiplexed assays. We knew the microneedle technology existed and were able to envision both the design aspects of integrating it into our product and the corresponding benefits in user experience.
What’s your kryptonite?
Delegating work. Most founders want to do all of the work; you expect a certain quality that you want reflected throughout the business and it’s hard to empower other people with important tasks when it seems easier to do it yourself in the short term. This is probably a bit more challenging for me because I like to be a perfectionist.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I usually get to work around 9 am and spend 30 minutes or so debriefing with Anup and Jacob, our R&D scientist, on results from the day before and experiments for the current day. My day is about 50% spent on the research and development side, so writing code or prototyping CAD models or running experiments. The other 50% is focused on the business side, so making decks, going to meetings, preparing partnership proposals etc. I don’t think I will ever step away from the tech side, though—it’s what I enjoy.
Are there any unique or quirky things you do with your team?
Our team spends about 15 minutes each day—either during lunch or the end of the day—to talk about sports. We’re all basketball and football fans, so we always take a daily sports break. We were bummed when the 76ers lost on the luckiest of buzzer beaters, but I guess it’s fine because we have football season coming up—fly Eagles fly!
Food trucks are also a big part of our team culture. Anup loves the halaal trucks so we go there every Friday. We usually grab meals together and use that time to talk about lives outside of work. Jacob loves traveling so it’s always fun to hear about his weekend trips.
Do you have any unusual habits or routines?
I’m a big fan of smart home devices. Every day, the lights turn on automatically at 7:30 am to wake me up. The news starts playing at 8 while I’m in the shower. I have lots of smart appliances and love automating things that are part of my daily routine. Right now, my top 3 go to tools are my Amazon Echo, LIFX light bulbs and the IFTTT app.
Outside of the lab, what do you geek out about?
Other than watching and playing sports, I like to stay up to date on movies and TV shows. Right now I’m watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime, and I definitely recommend it. I’ve also started writing in my free time and am currently working on a screenplay, but it’s definitely top secret. ;)
What’s the one or two books you recommend? Why?
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. Theranos muddied the water a bit in the industry, so investors are looking for more progress and justification before committing capital. This has forced us to be smart with expenditure and scrappy with fundraising. This book gives some good background and context for this.
Prescription for the Future: The Twelve Transformational Practices of Highly Effective Medical Organizations, by Ezekiel J. Emanuel. Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel is insightful in highlighting some seemingly trivial but actually very important problems with the healthcare industry—issues with tasks as simple as scheduling appointments—and reviews the tools healthcare companies are using to solve these problems.
I also recently read One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Commit yourself to your idea early on. Don't be afraid to dive in, especially once you know that it's going to be something you are going to enjoy working on. Make progress fast. Time is money.
Any advice you’d give aspiring founders?
Surround yourself with the right people. This is the most important step in founding a company. You aren’t going to have all of the skills and connections to do it by yourself, so a key component to progress is to surrounding yourself with a good team and team culture. Even if you struggle in some areas, find people who will be able to pull you up.