If you’re passionate about an idea, don’t wait: When I decided to start a company, I had nothing holding me back from pursuing this journey. I believe it was easier to start a company in my 20s because I was truly independent and unfettered from any serious financial obligations. As someone with a background in finance but new to the healthcare industry, I never thought asking for help should be viewed as a weakness. In fact, I thought my vision and commitment combined with other people’s expertise and experience could create an unstoppable force, which it did. Though I know that taking this risk, for me, was made easier because of my youth and lack of dependents, I don’t want to imply that those are requirements for success. For those entrepreneurs who have a family or other obligation, I advise you to follow your passion. If you believe strongly enough in an idea and are determined, it’s worth betting on yourself.
I had the pleasure to interview Zoë Barry. Zoë is the Founder and CEO of ZappRx, a digital health company focused on modernizing and streamlining the way specialty medications are accessed. Zoë launched her career on Wall Street working at the broker-dealer firm DeMatteo Monness and later the hedge fund Dawson Capital. While on Wall Street, Zoë felt compelled to transition into healthcare, to make a difference in an area where she knew needed improvement. In 2011, she joined athenahealth where she focused on implementing athenaClinicals at provider practices. Throughout her work at athenahealth and in healthcare, Zoë became aware of a major issue with today’s prescribing and prior authorization process, particularly related to specialty medications. As such, she decided to leave athenahealth to launch ZappRx in 2012. Today, ZappRx works nationwide with doctors, hospital systems, pharmacies and other tech partners. In addition to ZappRx, Zoë currently advises 2 startups; Remy (NYC) and Metiri (Boston). She is also passionate about mentoring and angel investing in women-led companies including Pixi Cycling, ianacare, Future Fuel and RDMD. Zoë was awarded Inc. Magazine’s 30 Entrepreneurs Under 30 list in 2015, Boston Business Journal 40 under 40 in 2015 and Medtech Boston’s 40 under 40 Heath care Innovator in 2016.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I started my career in Finance in 2007 working at an independent broker-dealer, DeMatteo Monness, and later at the hedge fund Dawson Capital. During this time, my family experienced firsthand the frustrations and delays that plague specialty prescription fulfillment. The more I learned about the problem, the more convinced I became that a solution was needed. No one should be dealing with such a fixable supply and demand problem during a health crisis, a time of enormous stress. We can get literally anything we need online in a day, why not our medications? Everyone deserves frustration-free access to life saving medications. Never one to sit on the sidelines, I was determined to solve the problem myself.
I left Wall Street shortly after this realization and took a job at Athenahealth where I could learn more about the nuances of healthcare. I knew I would not be able to tackle a startup plus fulfill my obligations to my job, so I took the leap to start out on my own. ZappRx launched in 2012. Today, we have raised over $41 million in funding. We are working with providers nationwide and have built strategic partnerships that have further driven the success of our solution.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I first started ZappRx, I had secured a very important meeting with a potential biopharma partner. I went into the meeting with a prepared presentation talking about APIs and other common acronyms in the tech space. Halfway through the meeting, one of the executives raised his hand asking me to clarify what an API was. After that experience, I realized the importance of level-setting regardless of who may be in the room, as you cannot assume the background or knowledge base of investors and customers. It is important as a CEO to adapt to each audience and prepare accordingly with appropriate terms and context so that you can quickly engage with them in a meaningful way.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I am extremely proud of the diverse and passionate team we’ve built at ZappRx. Specifically, I am inspired by the numerous women leaders on our growing executive team. In our work environment, people are encouraged to voice their opinions free from any dear that they’ll be characterized as emotional. ZappRx is a company in which all employees can voice their opinions without judgement. Bad ideas are part of the journey toward uncovering the good ideas. To foster an environment of growth, we offer competitive salaries as well as equity packages, and ensure that any role, regardless of title, has equal opportunity to grow as big as the employee’s talent.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
There is always something new and exciting happening at ZappRx. We started out in Pulmonology back when ZappRx was first developed. We recently expanded into Gastroenterology and are actively investing resources into identifying and developing solutions for other treatment areas, including Rheumatology, Neurology, and Oncology.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
My best piece of advice: Let people make mistakes. The hardest thing to do as a CEO is to let go and allow your employees and leaders to take control of projects and make their own mistakes. Mistakes will happen, and it’s about how you treat those mistakes and address them that makes a difference to your organization. As a leader of a company, you have many people looking up to you, so take advantage of that and empower your employees. I truly believe in the old saying “lead by example.” People who believe in you and know you’ll have their back as they go through their career will be the ones to help your business thrive.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am extremely grateful to Peter Wirth, the former chairman of ZappRx, and an instrumental leader in the biotechnology space. As we grew ZappRx, Peter encouraged me to be myself but was also good about reeling me in when needed. As a young CEO and founder, I was in unfamiliar territory, and Peter helped me navigate the role and supported me as I carved out my own stake in the digital health and investment world.
Peter also taught me how to avoid backing myself into a corner, to negotiate gracefully, and how to push back effectively. He helped me through ZappRx’s financing stages, initial partnerships, and customer deals. Peter remains an influential mentor of mine and I continue to leverage his willingness to share his insight and advice.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
With ZappRx’s solution, patients can get their life-saving medications faster and dramatically improve their quality of life. Our company’s vision is to put patients on specialty treatment in less than 24 hours. In the short few years we’ve been refining the platform, we have supported dozens of clinics and hospitals in their efforts to get their patients on treatment more efficiently. Prior to implementing ZappRx, it could take weeks for people to receive life-saving medications. As we grow, we want to expand our service across more conditions and reduce the “time-to-fill” to within 24 hours.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Leverage outside expertise, even if it’s your idea: As a new and young 26-year-old founder, I faced an uphill battle to get serious attention for my idea. However, I knew what I was capable of, so instead of going back to school, I brought experts to investor meetings who validated the importance of my idea. The extra support and third-party validation helped push through any initial resistance and got people to listen.
- If you’re passionate about an idea, don’t wait: When I decided to start a company, I had nothing holding me back from pursuing this journey. I believe it was easier to start a company in my 20s because I was truly independent and unfettered from any serious financial obligations. As someone with a background in finance but new to the healthcare industry, I never thought asking for help should be viewed as a weakness. In fact, I thought my vision and commitment combined with other people’s expertise and experience could create an unstoppable force, which it did. Though I know that taking this risk, for me, was made easier because of my youth and lack of dependents, I don’t want to imply that those are requirements for success. For those entrepreneurs who have a family or other obligation, I advise you to follow your passion. If you believe strongly enough in an idea and are determined, it’s worth betting on yourself.
- Focus on building your network, along with your company: As I worked to build ZappRx, I also cultivated a strong professional peer network. The first-time founder network allows me to connect with other first-time founders in all industries, of all ages and personalities. The network has enabled me to discuss and brainstorm strategic hiring and business growth practices with a diverse group of founders.
- Stay hungry for success: As a young, female entrepreneur, I have often found myself being scrutinized or judged for having an aggressive attitude. I had to fight the common prejudice that women should be passive and polite and assert my agency as both a woman and the founder of a company. I encourage all young founders to leverage their passion and risk-hungry attitude to fuel success.
- Don’t be afraid to step back: Encourage junior people on the team to take on major projects- even if it seems the project could “be a stretch” for them. This is important for many reasons. CEOs don’t delegate enough and end up getting spread too thin. Additionally, a CEO needs to cultivate the next generation of talent and challenging junior people will ultimately lead to their growth. Lastly, teams like to be challenged with new opportunities. It provides an environment where true talent can emerge, which in turn elevates teams across the org to be more productive and successful.
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.
Invest in women leadership and mentorship. It’s a movement that has grown in momentum, but in the startup land is still too infrequent. One way I am contributing to that effort is by investing in women entrepreneurs. By leading the first round of investment and allowing these female entrepreneurs to set the tone during the first term sheets, it cultivates a feeling of empowerment for these women that is critical for success in the startup process. I can also lend my own success, learning and mentorship into a growing organization as many have done for me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Do one thing every day that scares you”- Eleanor Roosevelt. Her quote hangs in ZappRx’s office to inspire all of our employees to take on challenges, voice ideas and embrace risk as a means for growing not only professionally, but also personally.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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.
There are so many people I’d love to engage with. This year, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Meg Whitman, CEO of HP, and it exceeded my already high expectations. Next up, I would love to have lunch with Arianna Huffington. Arianna is a powerhouse in the digital media space, a space dominated by male executives. Plus, she never rested on her laurels, as exemplified when she co-founded Huff Post. Women founders are rare and typically have had to go above and beyond to stake their claim on leadership; I would love the opportunity to hear her perspective and share our stories. Arianna, if you’re reading this, let me buy you lunch!