Conversation with Katherine Chambers, Co-Founder & CEO of The Right Place
The Value of Naiveté & Being an Outsider
March 28, 2018
1. What is your business?
I’m Co-Founder and CEO of The Right Place. We are a web-based healthcare technology company that helps hospitals and nursing home providers identify available beds for patients waiting to be discharged. Currently, 80% of the hospitals in the United States are relying on phone calls, faxes and emails to place soon-to-be discharged patients. With the United States’ quickly aging population swell, if it’s a problem now, it’s going to be much a bigger problem five and ten years from now.
We are a business-to-business company, so when we pitch a nursing home we say to the decision makers, “We want to make it as easy for you to manage your available beds. We want it to be as easy as making a restaurant reservation over the phone.” Everybody can understand the analogy, and so far customers agree that a digital solution is a great improvement over manual referral and bed tracking.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
I had a marketing consulting practice, and one of my clients connected me to his brother, a Geriatrician at Harvard named Dr. Alan Abrams. He was having a particular pain point where his patients were held up in the hospital once he had discharged them to nursing homes or rehab facilities. This is a problem particularly in geriatric care, as the longer, the patient sits in a hospital, the longer that person is immobilized and the more deconditioned he/she becomes.
At that time we were introduced, I had been working in the travel industry, so once the two of us connected and I learned more about his expertise, I kept thinking, “This cannot be the status quo of how things are done in healthcare.” I realized that the two of us together are uniquely compatible to solve this health care problem and so my inability at the time to understand the intricacies of healthcare really made me a great candidate to be a partner with Dr. Abrams. That was my aha moment.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
Over the course of six months doing research into geriatrics, every data point drove me further into believing that there was an opportunity to build a business around these pressure points. Some of the compelling data points for me were: the aging population of the U.S, the fragmentation of the nursing home industry, the hospital payment models, and the incentives for hospitals. When I put it all together, it seemed like such an awesome opportunity. I knew this could be a hard decision for my family—bringing in less income and less time with my kids–but the idea kept drawing me back.
4. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
For the first two years, I felt like such an outsider and expected to be questioned more, but it was not at all the case. It was almost as if not being an expert was actually quite valuable. Our pitch was, “Hey listen, we’ve seen how it works over here in these other industries, we want to take that same model, apply it to you but with all the sensitivities and parameters that are important to handling health care information.” I maintained that inquisitive approach and that greenness in going into this conversations to say, “You know your business better than I. I’m here to be an observer, but what we want to do is apply these other workflow methods from other industries.”
5. Were there any partnerships or advice that were particularly helpful?
Because my Co-Founder has great relationships, that has allowed us to get our product into the market quickly to test. He could make introductions, and then I could come in, have the conversations and be an active listener to the folks that we’re pitching. There is no question in my mind and, in particular with healthcare, that having those connections has definitely helped enable us to get our product into market.
That said, the challenge with healthcare is there’s so much risk associated with new methods and processes, that before you can really sell a product to anyone, you inevitably have to go through some kind of pilot stage. People always say, “Starting a new business is going to take twice as long and cost you twice as much as you thought.” But in healthcare, it probably is going to take you four times as long.
That has been true for us. The sales cycle in the hospitals is 18 to 24 months, and if you’re an early stage company, there’s no way you can survive selling into that kind of a market. So we had to pivot a little bit to figure out what other ways we could sell. For us, we identified the small mom-and-pop operated nursing homes. We pitch our software by educating them about the market opportunity in pitching to hospitals. We can close the sales within 30-45 days. We’ll keep pushing, and even come back to the hospital side once we get some good penetration in nursing homes.
6. Was outside funding/cost a challenge to getting your business off the ground?
We have funding from Angel investors. We are just now getting to that point where we are self-funding, and that is an absolute relief. The benefits of running and starting a business are super exciting in so many ways, especially building something from scratch, but the scary part is making payroll. And that’s a stress that I cannot even express. The responsibility is intense, but that’s where the friends, family, and networks really come in as a critical part of your support network.
7. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
The first thing that comes to mind is that I’m proud that my daughters see what I’m doing. I feel like my involvement in The Right Place is a way that I can contribute to our community and instill in them that you can go out and do something starting with just an idea and slowly evolving that into a plan, adding resources and being open to an evolving strategy.
The second thing that makes me proud is that we’ve been able to recruit great people and retain them by understanding and working with their needs. Between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm many of our employees start leaving the office for various personal responsibilities. This flexibility has really worked for us. I think we get more out of them and that people pay it back three fold. We are all connected 24/7 to address critical customer needs and make deadlines.
For example, we have a woman on our team who has a twenty-mile commute into our office, and I would be more than happy for her to spend more days working from home because she’s a self-starter. She knows that she works better in the office, and so we work with her knowing that she’s going to show up after she does the school drop-off and then she has to leave by 2:30 pm or 3:00 pm to fight the traffic to get back for pick up. She’s a great employee. It is far better for me to have an employee that knows herself and what motivates her have flexible hours than someone who isn’t productive and works the more common 9 to 5 schedule.
8. What are some of the biggest positive or negative surprises in your business?
As a co-founder and now the CEO of the business, I probably spend 35% of my time on fundraising and investor relations which isn’t always related to the actual day to day of what we’re building. That always requires a lot of catch up from the day to day with the team. It’s been an interesting learning curve, but I wish I could have somebody lead that role so that I could be as hands-on as I was at the very beginning of the company’s life with product development and the customer interaction.
9. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
I was struggling with hires we made that didn’t work out, and one of our investors told me, “If you get half of your hiring decision correct, then you’re doing better than most people.” And I thought, “How can that possibly be right?” We’re a small company. It’s going to be a setback for us for six months which for us seem like an eternity. His point was that in the course of business, some people are going to come in and they’re going to be great fits and other people won’t be a good fit, and you’re never going to bat a thousand. So it was encouraging to hear in the context of 30 years building a business, making some hiring decisions that don’t work out was not that significant.
10. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
I really hope the business grows to a point that it’s well beyond my capabilities to be the CEO. I feel like I have a decent awareness of my limitations, and this company doesn’t need to grow because I’m the CEO. I’m ready to step aside and hand it over to someone who’s capable of really expanding the growth of the business. I think that would be a really nice outcome for everyone as an indication that the business is poised for success and because it would allow me to give more attention to my family.
Date of conversation: November 29, 2017
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