Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Early in our growth, we had to make a painful change in our development team in order to realize the scale we needed. That experience taught me that an enormous element of this change was corporate culture. People that might be perfect for the early phase of a company, might not be a fit for that next stage of growth and a larger workforce. If you don’t evolve the culture to match your strategy, you’re risking your future.
I had the pleasure to interview Tomer Shoval, the CEO and co-founder of transformative healthcare company Simplee. Tomer was inspired to start Simplee after his own struggle deciphering medical bills. From his years at Shopping.com, the first internet shopping comparison site, Tomer knew that patients would embrace a consumer-centered way to understand and pay for medical bills. Tomer is originally from Israel and once played on that country’s national soccer team.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2010, I was on vacation abroad with my wife and children. Unfortunately, everyone fell ill on the trip. We all recovered and made our way back home, but the most negative and lasting part of that experience was the avalanche of confusing — oftentimes redundant — paper bills that started arriving in the mail weeks after our return. There were explanations of benefits, bills from the hospital, overlapping statements from the physicians. It was insanity and — unfortunately — not unique to our family. It ended up being my light bulb moment — I knew there had to be a better way, that the status quo was no longer good enough. I turned from my day job and started finding a way to fix it. Now, nearly ten years later, Simplee is being used by thousands of patients around the country to make medical bills easy to understand and pay.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Coming from the tech industry, I expected a similar embrace of innovation and adoption curve in healthcare. It was quickly made clear to me that healthcare operates on a different timeline…change happens slowly. And with good reason, people’s lives and well being can hang in the balance.
But I knew we had a good idea, and it was proven out over time. It just took time for health leaders to understand the value and impact of this change. Once they did, then they embraced it and became advocates.
For me, the lesson is to stick to your convictions with passion. And in an industry resistant to change, find the early adopters and then together you can create positive momentum.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
The biggest reason for our success has been the size of the problem. Confusing, opaque, and expensive medical bills are a near universal pain point. The business problems for hospitals is sizable and the addressable market is enormous.
By solving this in a compelling way for patients that is easy for hospitals to adopt — and that makes business sense for them — we created our own momentum. We just needed those first adopters and advocates. Once health system leaders realized it worked and that it both boosted their financial performance and made patients happy, then it began to grow quickly.
From a company point of view, we first needed to bring together the right team. It helped that we approached this with a patient’s perspective. That almost mission-driven mindset and the zeal with which we attacked it was contagious — the problem resonated with people and they were eager to be a part of it.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each. This answer will be a bit longer.
1) CEO is a very humbling experience. Most people that choose this path have a strong sense of confidence and belief in themselves. But in this job, every mistake that you make is high profile — front and center for your team, investors, customers, and partners to see. The best CEOs embrace humility, acknowledge mistakes, and then course correct.
2) Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Early in our growth, we had to make a painful change in our development team in order to realize the scale we needed. That experience taught me that an enormous element of this change was corporate culture. People that might be perfect for the early phase of a company, might not be a fit for that next stage of growth and a larger workforce. If you don’t evolve the culture to match your strategy, you’re risking your future.
3) A CEO must be an evangelist. You believe in your vision, but you need to convince others. Investors, clients, prospects, analysts, employees — none of them will sign on to your journey without doing their due diligence and believing in you. I remember once spending hours beginning at 10pm one night to convince a designer that we wanted to join the team. You have to be vocal and a public champion for what you believe. It’s one of the critical commitments and investments you’ll make as a leader.
4) You need strong support at home. I’m a family man first and foremost. A dog, a cat, four kids, and an incredible wife. Without her support, I could not be successful. During another international trip with my family, I was also meeting with investors in London. I was trying to wrap up the meeting so I could join my family and accompany them on the 14-hour flight home. I told her it was going to be tight, but she calmly told me not to worry: “get the money, I’ll manage the flight.” While I didn’t get the money — I did make it on the flight! But I was so humbled and grateful, and continue to be awed by her ongoing support to this day.
5) Make your office near your home. I’m cheating a bit because a serial entrepreneur did give me this tip before I launched Simplee. At the time, I was disappointed because I was hoping for grander advice from him. But it’s proven to be one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve received, so I want to be sure to share it with others. Saving commute time is good for both your work and home life.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As a CEO — especially a startup CEO — you absolutely have to enjoy the ride and the climb. There are a million ups and downs along the way. And a startup’s early life is defined by chaos. If you do not take enjoyment from the journey, then it’s not the right job for you.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There’s a very long list of people that have been instrumental throughout my journey. From early mentors, to tough bosses that taught me lessons, to random LinkedIn connections that opened the door to a strategic investor. The key to being successful is to obsessively seek out help, advice and connections at every opportunity.
However, if I had to choose someone specific…then I’d pick two! My co-founders at Simplee Roberto Rabinovich and Tom Tsarfati have been part of this since the very beginning. They were both at Shopping.com and immediately empathized with my medical experience and inspired by my idea. Beyond the moral support, they have been perfect partners because together our skill sets and personalities span the gamut of what’s required from a leadership team.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Professionally, we are still in the middle of this journey. So job one is to continue to keep the ship afloat as we sail to the promised land. If I had to identify one thing in particular, I would say it’s continuing to enhance our culture. We have an A-list team made up of diverse, passionate, skilled people. But a company’s culture is always changing and growing, sometimes in unexpected ways. So I’m constantly working hard to keep my finger on its pulse and ensuring that we’re operating at peak performance.
Personally, it’s always about family. I am constantly seeking balance between personal and professional, and I recognize that my family has had to make concessions to my being CEO at times. But I am always focused on being the best husband and father to my four children possible.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I hope to have two legacies. The first is on behalf of the millions of people in America, transforming the way we pay for healthcare in this country. At some point, most of us will be a patient — through an annual physical, a visit to the emergency room, or perhaps a routine procedure. When we do, I want all of us to have a simple, clear, and trusted experience with the financial part of that experience. It should be as easy and painless as making an Amazon purchase on their mobile phone. We are well on our way, but have lots of work ahead.
The second is on behalf of my team at Simplee. I want to help those that have chosen to join me on this amazing journey elevate their careers and achieve their own personal and professional goals.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
That movement is one we’re already helping to launch — eliminating the pain and stress of medical bills so people can focus on their health and well-being. Ten years into that movement and the progress has been remarkable. But I firmly believe that the best is yet to come.
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