Be authentic in your mission. It is okay to be mission oriented in your business and share that with your clients and investors. For me, helping people eat healthier and get access to medical nutrition therapy was not just a business but a mission that anyone can believe in.
Pivot swiftly. Every start-up at some point needs to adjust their business plan and strategy due to changing demands and market expectations. It shouldn’t be viewed as a mistake but just the normal course of business and it is important to do so swiftly.
Aiming to respond to all correspondences, big and small. I think it is important to always try to respond to people’s emails or messages, whether they are looking for advice or if they are a large client. Being responsive and consistent to everyone we work with is an important skill of integrity and being a thoughtful leader. No one should feel so big and important as to not acknowledge others and if one is overwhelmed with messages, then an assistant can always be considered.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Elnahar RD, Esq., a registered dietitian and an attorney. She was the CEO and founder of TelaDietitian, the premier telehealth solution for nutrition therapy consultations with a network of 100+ registered dietitians nationwide. Her company TelaDietitian was acquired by Teladoc Health (NYSE: TDOC). Jackie has been featured in Today, Shape, Dr. Oz, Women’s Health, Glamour, Huffington Post, among others and named a Notable Women of Tech by Crain’s New York.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always been interested in health and wellness but I did not realize that many people did not have access to quality nutrition information and medical nutrition therapy until I started working as a registered dietitian. While doing my clinical rotation at a hospital in Yonkers, New York, I saw patients at discharge be referred to see a registered dietitian but did not see one due to cost, convenience and access and it primarily stemmed from socioeconomic factors. I would then see the same patients return to the hospital for diet complications from their clinical conditions, for example, excessive sodium with hypertension. I realized that medical nutrition therapy consultations through telehealth were an ideal solution to improve access. I also reached out to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to be a part of telenutrition journey through their nutrition client protocols.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Having TelaDietitian be acquired has been the most interesting part since starting my company. There is a great deal of due diligence when it comes to mergers and acquisitions especially with a publicly traded company like Teladoc Health. Throughout the process, I was grateful to be able to join forces to work towards a common vision of better telehealth healthcare for all.
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, I met with one company that made me realize that they were looking to just learn and get ideas about the platform. That unfortunately can happen as you communicate with different companies and clients. From that time, I then always kept a handy, dandy NDA with me at any meeting and became much more proactive in protecting proprietary aspects of the company.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The healthcare space is interesting because it does not follow a conventional supply and demand model. It is very much dictated by what insurance covers and reimburses for. I learned this the hard way since our original business idea was to provide curated meal plans at discharge based on a patient’s clinical condition. It was a great concept on paper, but it was not an idea hospitals would be pay for since insurance does not cover it! We then pivoted and worked backwards as to what is reimbursed and medical nutrition therapy consultations are a reimbursable area of nutrition and hence TelaDietitian and the start of telenutrition was born. It is not easy to give up on a business because you invest so much of yourself, time and money in it. You find the drive and end up being resourceful in finding solutions whether it is pivoting or adjusting to the market.
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 about that?
My husband is my biggest advocate and business strategist. He always advises me to reach higher and ask for more. As a physician, he also helped me navigate the healthcare business side of things which is more nuanced in that healthcare start ups need to find a way to coexist or fit in the existing healthcare ecosystem. Mentorship from the women led Springboard Enterprises has also been very influential in my journey. When women wholeheartedly come together and find ways to support and connect, it can help build companies much bigger and much faster than otherwise.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Be willing to fail, but unwilling to quit. It’s a quote by motivational speaker Scott Burrows. I believe that failure is a part of the path of success but quitting is not and it is relevant to everything in life whether it is business or personal.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
The main pain point of TelaDietitian was to address the lack of access to medical nutrition therapy consultations with a a registered dietitian whether that was stemming from convenience, cost or location (rural and suburban areas have less outpatient dietitians than urban areas).
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What I appreciate about TelaDietitian is that we created the ultimate telenutrition experience having been built by registered dietitians and for registered dietitians to use in the niche area of telenutrition. We didn’t just take a video box and call it telehealth but we created a comprehensive telenutrition platform with optimization of digital health applications and curated content.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
TelaDietitan was acquired by Teladoc Health so cannot disclose what the company is working on but in general upcoming steps are great for telehealth, healthcare and patient care.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
No, women are underrepresented in STEM fields that drive tech innovation and receive less venture capital funding. It is slowly changing as more women pursue tech fields and leadership roles. Women focused VC’s and accelerators have been great additions for women to collectively work together for a better future in the tech industry.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
I believe many VC’s and investors think women can build a nice company but not a billion dollar company. When a women is leading, they see limitations to growth when in reality women are effective leaders of pioneering companies that are heading or already in the unicorn valuation.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
It depends on where the company is at the life cycle of a business. If a company is at the growth stage and there’s a standstill in a tech business, then there is a problem since the growth rate for a tech company should be cumulative year to year given the nature of scaling in tech. That being said, one has to go back to the drawing board and analyze product market fit. Is your product speaking to the market as a suitable solution or is it not fitting for whatever reason- cost, ease of use, ect. Also reevaluating the sales pitch might help to better align to what your customer is looking for. If the company is in the maturity stage of the business life cycle, then encouraging smaller scale start ups within the company and an entrepreneurial spirit within employees can help ignite new internal growth ideas.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Studying the market and your customer to showcase ROI in a sales pitch will help drive sales performance. Every customer is thinking about their return on investment, a sales team and sales pitch should have this studied and demonstrated distinctly with quantifiable numbers if available. Essentially, evidencing ROI is the most important part of a sales pitch.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
For digital health and healthcare, being focused on patient centric care and positive health outcomes is going to stand out in the long run. Ultimately, the patient will have see benefit to their healthcare journey and health outcomes and that needs to be demonstrated to providers, healthcare systems and insurance companies especially as value based care takes precedence. The more clinical validation and market credence that can be demonstrated, the better for attracting the right, longstanding customer base.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- Going right to the source and getting customer feedback should be part of the go to market strategy early on. You want to check and correct your product as early on as possible.
- Analyze from the perspective of all different users and use cases. In general for digital health, we look at the perspective of the healthcare provider and the patient and the different use cases of an acute condition or chronic condition. You also want to look at whether it is tech savvy user or an elderly nursing home patient.
Organization and navigation are important. Organizing information clearly on a platform is key to making the platform easy to navigate. A simple and clean approach is best and that is in line with the ideal design of major tech companies. With that, it should also be easy for the customer to find out how and where to contact customer service if needed with a responsive email and phone number.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Customer retention is crucial especially in technology since there are so many applications competing for interest on the web and mobile screen. Optimizing engagement is an evolving and ongoing component to a technology company. Utilizing email and text messaging has been helpful as well as targeted check ins and questions to create rapport and connection. Also finding ways to create personalization by customizing a platform to the user is helpful if it can also be done in a scalable manner.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
5 lessons I would share:
- Be authentic in your mission. It is okay to be mission oriented in your business and share that with your clients and investors. For me, helping people eat healthier and get access to medical nutrition therapy was not just a business but a mission that anyone can believe in.
- Looking at the microtrends but also the macrotrends of your business. I think it is helpful to take a step back and look at the broader macrotrends of the business. You could be winning short term gains due to the current microtrends, but to ensure sustainability and long term gains for your company and investors, it is important to look at where an industry is going and what are the expected changes to the market so you can be ahead of them.
- Pivot swiftly. Every start-up at some point needs to adjust their business plan and strategy due to changing demands and market expectations. It shouldn’t be viewed as a mistake but just the normal course of business and it is important to do so swiftly.
- Find a mentor and be a mentor. One learns from mentors but you can also learn and give back by being a mentor. I found both paths to be very helpful and helps to expand one’s network. I like the perspective that your success is my success as it helps grow industries especially in burgeoning areas like digital health.
- Aiming to respond to all correspondences, big and small. I think it is important to always try to respond to people’s emails or messages, whether they are looking for advice or if they are a large client. Being responsive and consistent to everyone we work with is an important skill of integrity and being a thoughtful leader. No one should feel so big and important as to not acknowledge others and if one is overwhelmed with messages, then an assistant can always be considered.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂
I really believe in the power of kindness. The human spirit can be lifted with one kind act and given that everyone has something on their plate whether it is emotional, financial or physical (especially with the difficulties that the Covid pandemic has brought), being kind is something we all can do everyday and at no cost.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
There are so many wonderful people. I really admire the philanthropic work of Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates. They choose to live unselfishly to the benefit of millions around the world and that is really noble and awe inspiring to see.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!