Zoë Barry is a first-time founder and CEO, but you wouldn’t know it from her time with ZappRx. After founding the company in 2012, she built it from a one-woman operation out of her kitchen to a 40-person company with its own office space in Downtown Boston – raising over $40M in the process. All of this success came from two sources: immeasurable hustle and the desire to fix a major flaw in healthcare.
That flaw became apparent after a difficult experience her family endured some years back.
“I founded ZappRx in 2012, after my youngest brother was diagnosed with severe epilepsy. He had a really hard time finding a physician that could formally diagnose him, and on top of that, he was a pediatric patient,” Barry explained.
After diagnosis, it still took six months for Barry’s brother to receive the treatment he needed, which was a big problem.” Thankfully, when he finally did get on medication, he made a near-full recovery, but the ordeal illuminated a big question: Why did it take so long for her brother to receive treatment?
“The sicker a patient is, the more complex medication and regimen you'll need, and because it's very challenging to access that medication, you have to go through a lot of barriers and hurdles to prove a patient is sick. The highest-risk patients with the most acute needs have the drugs that are furthest out of reach, and with ZappRx, I set out to solve that problem.”
ZappRx is a platform for specialty drugs that simplifies this intensive process. It collects and saves information like pharmacy information, payer authorization requirements, relevant clinical history, prescription trends, and more – all in one place. Moreover, it optimizes the workflow process by automating a lot of the paperwork involved with getting each specialty drug approved, and allows all necessary parties (like pharmacists, healthcare providers, and payers) to interact with each other. The platform also helps to avoid delays caused by illegible handwriting, miscommunications, or incomplete paperwork which, as Barry explained, is a very real problem.
The platform currently focuses on specialty drugs for pulmonary arterial hypertension, IPF, and cystic fibrosis, though they’re not stopping there. “Those initial categories represent our proof-of-concept before we go out and build other disease areas, and we have a full disease roadmap. Our goal is to cover 80% of all specialty drugs in the next year or two.”
It’s all about shortening fulfillment time. On average, Barry explains that it takes six to eight weeks for a patient to receive specialty medications, from diagnosis to fulfillment. They’ve managed to bring that time down to six to -eight days in some cases, but the CEO explains that their mission is to eventually “bring patients any FDA-approved therapy in 24 to 48 hours.”
Their revenue comes from the data they sell to pharmaceutical companies, though ZappRx makes the platform free for doctors and pharmacists to use. Barry says that the company is still expanding their business model, specifically for payers looking to work with ZappRx.
What ZappRx Has Been up To
Since the company’s last VentureFizz article in 2015, a lot has happened. Back then, Barry’s team was working out of WeWork South Station, but a few months ago, they signed a lease for 9000 square feet of office space at 100 Franklin Street in Downtown Boston. This is a far cry from the kitchen table she was working at when ZappRx was founded.
“It's very, very exciting to build out the space, create our own culture, and really work with people to define what our office space looks like. That’s opposed to being in a coworking space, where you're bumping shoulders with many other people and companies who have different values and mission statements than you do.”
Another major advancement came with the company’s fundraising. Last April, ZappRx closed a $25M Series B led by Qiming Venture Partners, which is on top of a $14M Series A in 2015 and two $1M seed rounds in 2013 and 2014. These are certainly impressive numbers for a first-time founder, which led us to ask: How did you do it?
“The feedback I've gotten from other people is that fundraising and managing investors are my unique superpowers. I think it's because my first job out of college was working at a hedge fund for John Dawson on Wall Street, and he was one of the founders of the hedge fund industry. I spent so much time shadowing him, and he had a very clear mindset, so I got to see what it was like to work with someone who founded an industry. I think I had a lot imparted on me.”
With the company now over five years old, we thought it would be a good time to ask Barry for a few lessons she’s learned as a first-time founder.
1.) Have a Goal, and Communicate
When you’re raising money, Barry says, set a goal that you agree upon with your investors – and hit it. It will demonstrate progress for your business with the investors who are funding you.
“Every time you're in a stage, you’re building. You're always trying to get to a beachhead, you're trying to hit a milestone, and you have to know what stage is appropriate for your own venture. I didn't know what it was, so I worked really closely with my investors to figure out what I would be judged on, what was important for this company, and then really disrupt the market,” Barry explained. “Then it’s about how to keep showing the investors the incremental progress. If we do that, we can always raise a better valuation, raise more money, and do more.”
2.) Try Before You Buy
When asked about her experience building a senior management team, the CEO explained that her biggest early pitfall was that she, like many other leaders, undervalued cultural fit. And it’s a tough problem to solve. How do you know someone is a good fit for your company?
“Someone could have the best resume, the best background, and a reference check with all the applicable experience, but you need to have people work together and collaborate.”
The solution? “Try before you buy,” Barry said.
“Work on a project with somebody, and see how you work with them. Every time I have done that, it’s led to the most successful hires, who have either stayed the longest or are still here at ZappRx.”
3.) Build Culture Constantly
Building a real, meaningful, positive culture is “something we are constantly iterating on,” Barry told me.
The day before we spoke, ZappRx held an executive team meeting where they decided to form a company culture club. They decided that it would be best to have the club led by director-level employees – people who report up to the higher-ups, but are also “much closer with new hires at the associate level.” By being in that middle layer, they have the ability to report both up and down with ease.
As part of ZappRx’s culture initiative, they’ve also begun hosting various team outings for employees to showcase their passions outside work. “One example is Scott. Scott led rock climbing, so we all went rock climbing one afternoon. Regina did paint night, so we all painted. Another was really into go-kart racing, so we did that. It was so much fun, and it provided an opportunity for people to show off their personality.”
This focus on culture goes beyond simply being a good leader; it’s about building a positive work environment for those who have helped you get to where you are today.
“We've hired a lot of great people on the team, and they’re all helping me tackle this problem. I may be founder, but the company is now 40 people and growing, so it's no longer just me eating peanut butter and jelly on my kitchen table, dreaming about a way to change the world. It is actually happening.”
Zoë Barry image courtesy of ZappRx.