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Ranga Jayawardena of Beam Health: “Passive aggressive leaders kill companies”

Passive aggressive leaders kill companies. This is something that David Mandell, a mentor at Techstars, told our cohort recently. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Leaders have to be decisive and direct. As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of […]

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Passive aggressive leaders kill companies. This is something that David Mandell, a mentor at Techstars, told our cohort recently. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Leaders have to be decisive and direct.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ranga Jayawardena COO & Co-Founder of Beam Health

Ranga is the growth engine of Beam, helping the company become one of the fastest-advancing telehealth platforms in the country. Prior to Beam, Ranga built a foundation of expertise across several business areas. With his former lives as an award winning National Sales Trainer at Bristol Myers Squibb, an Enterprise Procurement Officer for healthcare data and an Ultra-High Net Worth Private Banker at J.P. Morgan, Ranga brings cross-category experience and the spirit of a hustler to Beam.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Prior to founding Beam Health, I spent five years at Bristol-Myers Squibb working across several functions, including sales, business analytics and procurement. This was an insightful period in my career and gave me a line of sight on the myriad challenges patients face in our Healthcare System. I learned that more than half of patients across many specialty conditions, including oncology, cardiology, rheumatoid arthritis, and etc. go undertreated every year in America. In fact about 7 million Americans either forgo treatment or miss medical appointments due to something often overlooked: the amount of time it takes to travel to a doctor’s office. I also learned that patients with serious diseases often stop taking medication that could be keeping them alive for reasons as simple as the amount of time it takes to show up for a monthly prescription refill appointment. It is apparent that patients are undertreated, under diagnosed and even ignored due to issues that technology and business model innovations can solve. I looked at telemedicine as low-hanging fruit; it’s an innovation that does not require new technology, and yet makes problems in healthcare access and patient treatment solvable.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Capitalism is all about enabling laziness; you want consumers to be able to make purchases while they sit on their couch at home. Once you enable them to do so, you can drive customer engagement and satisfaction. We’ve seen this in other industries, but not in healthcare. The inconvenience in going to see a doctor is a solvable problem. The healthcare access problem is solvable. Low patient engagement is solvable. We’re on a mission to bring that level of consumerism and customer engagement to a space that sorely needs it, but helping physicians’ offices innovate their business models. Success in this mission will disrupt the space, help doctors stay where they want to be (in private practice) and improve patient health outcomes.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on, we had a bug during a product demo with an investor. This wasn’t just any investor, but someone I have immense admiration for and someone who I was convinced could help our business grow. It was one of those moments that could have gone either way and thankfully the investor was able to look past it and ended up backing Beam. It taught me and my co-founder that sometimes regardless of preparation, you have to think on your feet and talk your way out of a tight spot!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Years ago, when I was working in analytics and data procurement at Bristol-Myers Squibb, we were looking for vendors to provide us with healthcare data and help us identify key opinion leaders. We had been working with one vendor for 20+ years and were, for the most part, happy with their work. That being thing said we were surveying new companies in the space and we met Web Sun and Arif Nathoo, the founders of Komodo health. At the time, Komodo was a small 10-person company based in Silicon Valley with really no big pharmaceutical clients at the time. Still, they blew us away and were approaching the space in very interesting ways. So we decided to give them a shot, and I played a small role in helping them get their first deal in big pharma across the finish line. A few months later, Web called me and told me that they had grown to a 40 person company. I was so impressed and inspired; I caught the entrepreneurial bug. Fast forward a few years and I decided to leave BMS to start Beam. We went to a conference in San Francisco and set up a meeting with Web, who’s based there, to catch up. This led to a few other meetings and eventually ended in members of Komodo’s founding team backing Beam and becoming strategic advisors for the company. Every pearl of mentorship that we have received from them has been incredibly impactful, and there is no way that I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for mentors like them.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I love this question. Industry disruption is not always a good thing. Hospitals and large health systems have, in a way, disrupted healthcare in the early 2000s and 2010s by buying up smaller clinics and creating large consolidated healthcare delivery networks.

This is not a healthy trend. It’s bad for patients, for providers and for the entire healthcare system. It’s a trend that’s lowered quality and increases costs to patients. The corporatization of medicine is something that doctors and patients abhor, but it’s continued nonetheless, mostly because hospitals administrators are often better business people than physicians. The good news is that the trend is starting to reverse; physicians are leaving employment at hospitals at record rates and the rate at which health systems are purchasing private clinics is slowing down. We’re here to equip these independent physician groups with the tools they need to scale virtually and compete with large health systems and vertically integrated telemedicine companies. In the process, we’ll make healthcare fun again for doctors.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  • Beam Health was recently selected for the 2020 Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars, a highly selective program designed to elevate connectivity, media and entertainment startups, tapping Comcast NBCUniversal’s global network of experts and partners. The Techstars program is big on focus. The only advantage that startups have is focus. A lot of companies make the mistake of trying to solve too many problems and sell to too many customer types and markets. Many internal departments and teams have too many KPIs and metrics that they try to optimize for. Focus is incredibly important, and once you demand it, you will get results.
  • Early on in my career, a mentor of mine, Tony Flemmich (senior VP at Bristol-Myers Squibb) told me to guide my career purposefully. In other words, don’t be a silent partner in the trajectory of your career, don’t let past experience and inclinations determine your future. I took Tony’s words to heart; I’ve pivoted from private banking, to enterprise procurement, to pharmaceutical sales and now starting a company in the healthcare space.
  • Passive aggressive leaders kill companies. This is something that David Mandell, a mentor at Techstars, told our cohort recently. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Leaders have to be decisive and direct.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Well, we still have quite a long way to go with Beam! That being said, I am passionate about helping people improve not just their physical health, but their emotional well being. Behavioral health specialists make up 36% of our customer base at Beam, so we’re already making strides in that direction.

Personally, I’ve been practicing meditation for 20 years, and I feel that it is a tool that is massively underutilized and misunderstood. Meditation is about cultivating the mind and adjusting our ways of perceiving and thinking in such a way to bring greater well being to ourselves and others. I can anticipate focusing more time and energy on this area down the line.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

At Techstars, we recently met with Rahul Vohra of Superhuman, who spoke on how to find product/market fit, and how to make it a measurable metric that can be increased over time. Product/market fit is absolutely critical for founders; without it, it’s nearly impossible to scale. It resonated because early on, we want to sell to every type of healthcare customer, and we were building features that had broad appeal. Now, we’re focusing on a particular market segment, and that’s drastically impacted our sales operation and our product roadmap.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Pema Chodron — ‘Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.’

Startups face a lot of potential pitfalls. Founders often experience immense doubt about their businesses, but I think the repeated exposure to those challenges ultimately can help someone adopt the mindset required to have a successful startup.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Tech companies have come in and disrupted most major industries. Uber made it easy for people to hail rides, Amazon has given consumers choice and convenience in retail. Social media companies have figured out how to make their products so sticky that people are constantly engaged in their social profiles. None of this has happened yet in healthcare. Patients don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to their healthcare providers, due in part to a byzantine payer framework. Patients are aware of less than a tenth of one percent of the telemedicine options that are available to them. Patients aren’t engaged in their own healthcare! They struggle to adhere to treatment plans, stay compliant on medications and make follow-up appointments. At Beam, we want to change this. We want to bring consumerism and engagement to patient care. We envision a world where everyone is a few clicks away from finding and connecting with the best care available to them.

It’s often said that Healthcare is one of the most challenging spaces to disrupt and innovate in and that’s true. But, that doesn’t make it an unworthy endeavor. If Beam can, in concert with doctors and nurses, can make healthcare less intimidating for patients and more fun for providers, we can accomplish greater well being for all.

How can our readers follow you online?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beamhealthgroup

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/beam-health-group

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/beam.health/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/beamhealth?lang=en

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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