What's the recipe for being buzzworthy? Meaning, what makes one company, that is growing at a light-speed pace, stand out from all the other startups that are creating great products, seeking funding, and trying to build a recognizable brand in Boston?
For a case study, let's use ZappRx, one of the buzz-iest companies in Boston right now. What is driving the excitement over this company that is trying to disrupt the prescription drug filing process?
1. A product that can earn revenue. Check.
2. A product that can make a difference in an industry, a process, or a piece of hardware that has been ignored by innovation. Check.
3. A founder who is smart, dedicated, and passionate about his/her company. Check.
4. A company/idea that is so good that everyone (EVERYONE!!!) who has invested in it mentions it first and foremost when talking about the most interesting/potentially successful companies in their portfolio. Check.
5. A company and founder that all other startups and entrepreneurs talk about when asked what other companies we (media) should be paying attention to. Check.
6. Every rumor of funding, growth, and/or the formation of partnerships with industry stalwarts, includes the mention of the hot startup. Check.
So that's it. That's how to become one of the most buzzed about companies in Boston. That's the secret sauce. Easy to replicate, no?
Actually, what ZappRx and Zoë Barry have done in a couple of years is quite amazing, impressive, and a game changer for doctors, pharmacies, and prescription drug patients.
ZappRx is a "specialty pharmacy care coordination platform." Through its website and mobile apps, users who connect their insurance and credit card information can more easily pick up prescriptions; AND patients can keep track of their medications, refills, and get alerts when they need to pick up their pills, supplies, etc. Eventually, Barry envisions the entire prescription communication channel, from patient to doctor to pharmacy back to the patient, to be a key component of ZappRx, making the process more transparent and streamlined.
Since its founding in January 2012, ZappRx has launched a successful pilot program in New York and raised $1M in Seed funding led by Atlas Venture, with Life Sciences Angel Network, SR One (the investment arm of GlaxoSmithKline) and Hakan Satiroglu, among others joining the investment. (Sources say that ZappRx have already secured another big round of funding, which they are about to announce.)
(Additionally, the word on the street is that ZappRX is about to announce a strategic partnership with one of the largest national pharmacy chains, as well.)
So how did a Columbia University Anthropology major come up with the innovative idea for a prescription drug coordination platform?
As Barry said of the impetus behind ZappRx's creation, "I launched ZappRX in January 2012 after witnessing an absolute disaster prescription check out. "
"A young girl had just come home from college," Barry explained, "and she had a doctor e-prescribe all her medications to a pharmacy because she had forgotten them when she came home from school. The pharmacy had no record of the e-prescription coming in. They couldn't process it and were calling the doctor. Then they initiated a workaround with a doctor who called the prescription in over the phone."
She continued, "They figured out the workaround, but she did not have her insurance card, so the price of the prescription went from $30 to $140."
"The girl checked her bank account and realized that she did not have $140, which is typical for a college student," Barry added.
"They tried to get her mother to send a credit card over the phone, but the pharmacy couldn't take the credit cards over the phone. So she wasn't going to get her medication (which she probably needed)."
As Barry explained, "I happened to be standing behind her in line and I knew what was going on because I was working with electronic medical records with Athenahealth at the time."
"Here was someone trying to overcome every obstacle and was thwarted along the way," Barry concluded, "so I offered to pay for the prescription and told her that she had to have coffee with me."
Barry said that while working for Athenahealth, she became aware of some of the eye-opening statistics about people taking/not taking their prescriptions and the effects that it has on the entire health care system.
Barry did some investigation into the matter on her own, sending some surveys about prescriptions back to college with the girl she had helped at the pharmacy. When the responses showed the widespread frustration with the entire process, Barry knew she could do something to fix the broken prescription drug system.
As she said, "Basically, I identified the problem, came upon a solution, and then decided to actually implement the solution and start a company."
The first thing that Barry did was try to make sure she had a patent for the idea. As she told me, she had friends at MIT who had a few patents registered and for a few months she learned everything she could about patents and then wrote a formalized patent for ZappRX.
With the help of WilmerHale's Quickstart program, Barry figured out a way to get legal representation for IP, got her company set up, and got the provisional patent filed in March 2012.
On her "ah ha" moment, when she felt that ZappRx could work, Barry said, "As a first-time entrepreneur I didn't have a lot of street cred," but she got New York-based Ruckus marketing to build an MVP. Barry showed the product to Atlas when she was looking for funding and brought it to the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference and showed it to Walgreens, CVS, etc.. That was when, she felt she was finally getting some traction with ZappRx.
"Finally, I had something that wasn't a figment of my imagination, but something real," Barry added.
Since then, ZappRx decided to focus on niche/specialty products like nebulizers, oncology medicines, rare disease medications and supplies, etc.
Deploying their marketplace for specialty products turned out to be a much bigger business possibility than Barry initially thought. The pending partnerships will implement ZappRx's platform for niche products and deploy it on a much more widespread scale than the product has ever been used for.
As was evident during our discussion, Barry is excited about the opportunity, a bit surprised about the quick success, and most of all, passionate about changing a broken system.
With the announcement in September of the $1M Seed Round, ZappRx finished off an impressive year of growth and innovation. With rumors abound about more funding and key partnerships, 2014 could be an even bigger year for this fast emerging healthcare disruptor.
Dennis Keohane is the Senior Writer for VentureFizz. You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.