by Tim Jahn on June 18, 2010
In this interview, I’m chatting with Cyrus Massoumi, co-founder and CEO of ZocDoc, a website that allows patients to find and book doctors instantly online.
ZocDoc just expanded their services into the Chicago market this past Tuesday. I’m amazed at the passion and dedication Cyrus shows at revolutionizing one important part of an extremely complicated industry, with such a simple solution. You go online, find a time that works for you, and BOOM – you’re booked!
Since they just opened up shop here in Chicago, they don’t have a ton of practices outside the city available yet, but Cyrus said they will be expanding outward as they settle in here.
I’m Cyrus Massoumi, the CEO and co-founder of ZocDoc.
And what is ZocDoc?
ZocDoc is an online way for patients to find doctors and book appointments online, similar to booking a restaurant reservation on OpenTable or a flight on Expedia or Orbitz. You can come to ZocDoc, find a doctor who accepts your insurance and book an appointment instantly online.
ZocDoc came about from my own personal need. Three or four years ago, I was on a flight, traveling a lot, and had a really bad sinus infection. My plane landed back in New York and I ruptured my ear drum. It was a really painful process and I really wanted to find a doctor that could see me the next day.
I come from a family of doctors so I wanted to find an ENT specialist. I knew that’s who I had to go to and I went to my insurance company’s website at the time. I literally started going down a list of doctors. I wasn’t from New York, so I started calling down the list of doctors and had a number of problems. I had no idea who was good, the phone numbers wouldn’t work, one doctor I called had retired a couple of years prior.
It was such a difficult process and I thought to myself, everything else in my life is so efficient and technology has enabled me to make so much of my life so much easier. I can book things 24 hours a day and I don’t have to worry about calling between 9 and 5 – why can’t I do this for healthcare? I approached one of my co-founders, Oliver, who is a physician, and I said Oliver – look, why doesn’t this exist in healthcare?
He said you’re right, we should quit our jobs and start this company.
When Oliver said alright, let’s quit our jobs and do this, what did you say?
Well, it was a huge risk, because we had this established path ahead of us. We knew that if we stayed there, we were doing well, we’d have a good career in front of us and everything was set. I thought the rest of my life was planned out.
All of a sudden, I moved to a place where it wasn’t planned out and there was all this unknown and all this risk. But it was something that we just couldn’t get away from. The idea was so compelling and it was something I felt so many people needed. The more people we talked to, the more people that were like, I would absolutely love to book my doctor this way.
I’ve always known I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Incidentally, I come from a family of doctors. Everyone in my family for generations, they’re doctors in every direction, and for some reason, I just wasn’t really good at science.
That was it, I knew that I was going to go into something else. I remember, one day when I was a small child, one of my father’s friends came in. I found this guy to be really endearing and he was such a nice, charismatic guy and I asked him what he did. He said he was a business man and I said, that’s it – I’m going to be a business man!
I had no idea what he was talking about but I think , I’ve known that I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I’ve started companies and failed in the past. When I was in my early 20s, I started an internet company that sold software to ecommmerce companies. When all the ecommerce companies went away, so did all my customers. It was a really interesting experience.
I knew that I was going to get back to being an entrepreneur but I had to sort of find the right idea. I think that’s one of the things that was really important to me, because you give so much of yourself to being an entrepreneur – you’re all in. And if you’re going to be all in, you need to be so passionate about it. It’s really not about financial return but it’s really about building something that never existed before.
So it’s been two and a half years, you’re here now in Chicago, expanding into your fourth market. What’s the biggest challenge been since that initial day when you got off that plane?
It’s interesting. It’s something I talked a bit about earlier, which is staying focused. As a company, we now do hundreds of thousands of interactions with patients on a monthly basis. There’s so much input that we’re getting and everyone wants us to do so many different things. We’ve gotten sovereign governments who’ve called us and asked us to expand internationally. I think to some extent, what’s made us successful thus far as a company has been having great people, staying focused, and just working hard.
That seems like common sense – of course you want great people, to stay focused, and you want to work hard. The challenge is that it’s not that easy. For example, we could be a much bigger company today if we were able to hire more. And we just can’t find enough great people to fill all the open jobs that we have at the company. And we have a really high bar.
Everyone that works at ZocDoc is great, really smart, really driven, they really believe in our mission of how we’re going to positively affect healthcare. It’s really difficult to find a lot of those people. But we’ve maintained our hiring standards and I think it’s been to the benefit of the company. Similarly, staying focused. We have a lot of very large hospital clients right now who love the product and want us to do this and that and all these different things.
I think that from a technology company perspective, that’s great, that’s how you grow. Sometimes, if you’re doing too much, what I call customized work for each individual client, you end up with a product that isn’t usable, isn’t scalable. And you lose the beauty of having one product that works everywhere.
I think that’s been a big challenge, because people have offered us quite attractive contracts to change ZocDoc in this way and do it this way. At the end of the day, it’s been our laser focus on this one problem that we’re solving. We want to do this in more places, better than everyone else, and right now, the focus is to do this in more places.
We have people voting in every city across the country. We still have the voting up on our website and we’re collecting feedback on which cities should be launched next on ZocDoc. Until ZocDoc is available nationwide, we can’t lost that focus, because that’s what made us successful thus far:
Looking back, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who’s back where you were on day one?
One of the things we were fortunate to have done is be persistent. In the early days, when we came up with the idea, patients would always tell us it was a great idea. Quite frankly, we heard a lot of feedback from doctors in the early days saying that there was no way patients would book on this, they wouldn’t want to use it, etc.
Even from, quite frankly, people in my own family. I come from a family of doctors and they were a little bit skeptical. I think my father, up until about a year ago, he was on an elevator ride in San Francisco for an orthopedics convention. He’s an orthopedic surgeon and he heard a doctor comment that his wife loved ZocDoc. My dad got so excited that someone had actually heard of his son’s company.
I think that you just need to be persistent. And if you have conviction and you’re being smart about the decisions that you’re making, no one can really – there’s no “oh duh” ideas out there. You actually have to go in and prove it. You have to prove that people would do this, you have to prove that you can get doctors to use this, you have to prove and you have to believe.
In the early days of ZocDoc, it was really tough because not a lot of people believed in us. We had to believe in ourselves. And I think that you see this as an entrepreneur every day and in the early days you don’t have enough experience with it. Literally, you have one road block after another. And you just have to keep on being persistent and find a way around that road block.
And literally, as long as you just keep your head down and you’re persistent, if you have a bad day, you sleep it off, you wake up and it’s a brand new day. You approach the problem in a fresh new way, you tweak something and you just keep going.
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