Transitioning your business from being hands on with customers to enabling them to self-serve and realize the value of your product themselves, can be one of the most challenging processes in your business’ journey. You need to be hands-on with your customers early on to inform your product, but you will never reach large scale without eventually enabling your customers to self-serve.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Chepesiuk, entrepreneur and CEO of virtual care software provider OnCall Health.
Nicholas Chepesiuk is the founder and CEO of OnCall Health, a technology company that provides best-in-class software and services that enable hundreds of healthcare practice owners, brands, and enterprises to launch and grow their own virtual healthcare programs. Under his leadership, OnCall Health is growing rapidly and today hosts over 1 million virtual health appointments annually through its virtual care platform.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born and raised in Toronto and built my career in the local technology startup community. I started out “smiling and dialing” on the sales floor at Top Hat, an education technology company, and then worked my way over to Turnstyle, a marketing technology company which was eventually sold to Yelp. I learned a great deal through my time at those companies, watching and supporting their growth, and applied what I learned to my own entrepreneurial journey when starting my own company.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Back in 2015, when times were much simpler, I was having a casual conversation with a friend about the reasons why I couldn’t text my doctor or FaceTime my therapist. That prompted the idea for OnCall Health and my drive to bring virtual care to healthcare providers.
In 2016, OnCall Health began its journey by providing software to a psychology clinic that needed an easy and secure way to offer video appointments as an option to its patients. At that time, the clinic operators believed that in the distant future every healthcare provider and enterprise would need to adopt virtual care as part of their practice or operations. Today, when we look back at the acceleration of digital transformation in the healthcare industry over the past several years, it has been incredible and far faster than expected. And as anticipated, virtual care has become a necessary component in healthcare providers’ toolkits.
It has been a long process to bring that initial idea into its current state and, as with all ideas, we still have a long way to go. But I am proud to share that five years after beginning my entrepreneurial journey, OnCall Health is uniquely positioned to be the chosen virtual care program vendor for some of the largest healthcare brands in North America.
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?
I think the hardest part for me has been letting go of certain things as we scale and letting other people run their various departments. I have had to learn on the fly how to evolve from being a sales account executive to being a CEO that manages a rapidly growing company of nearly 50 people.
Another big challenge has been the insane pace at which our industry (virtual healthcare) has evolved, especially in the last year due to the pandemic. I’ve had to make some really challenging decisions that have pushed the limits of my mental health, but there isn’t anything else I’d rather be doing. There have been so many incredible learning opportunities that I am gaining from this experience. It’s really not in my nature to give up — I’ll see it through, no matter what happens.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going far better than I could have imagined. We’ve seen amazing growth over the past year and have raised additional funding to continue our acceleration. I think a huge factor in our success has been a willingness and ability to take a very small salary for the first couple years, and the people that joined super early have chosen to stick it out with me. We built the foundation for the company together and we were fortunate to have some excellent early customers that really helped to shape our product. I have always been of the opinion that no task is beneath me — I’ll pick up the phone and talk to anyone if something needs to get done.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We take a different approach than most other companies in our industry. Instead of providing a virtual health service to consumers and employers, we provide software to enable virtual health programs for healthcare organizations that already have the providers — such as doctors, therapists, or nurses — and patients.
From a brand perspective, we provide an enterprise solution that can be white-labeled by healthcare providers, which means our brand is less visible in the market compared to the consumer applications that operate more like a virtual walk-in clinic. However, our ability to enable healthcare organizations to provide continuity of care and engage with patients in a way that aligns with their practice, is what makes us stand out in the healthcare community.
I’ve also worked hard with my team to build our company’s culture around total transparency, valuing ideas over hierarchy and data over opinions. I feel confident that we can build a world-class, industry-leading company here in Canada. I am passionate about the social impact of OnCall’s business, especially in a time where virtual care is needed to alleviate the challenges faced through the pandemic.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
In my early days of the company, I promised features to prospective customers that were either in development or on our long-term roadmap. I think there is a time and place for that in sales when you are scrappy and trying to get customers. But it certainly led to some awkward conversations when I over-promised and under-delivered.
At scale, the best practice is to be honest about where your product is at and the timelines of new features. It will ultimately lead to the best customer relationships.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I received some advice early on to only show our product to qualified prospective customers so that a potential competitor would not be able to see how our technology worked. I think that may work for some companies, but I’ve learned over time that it’s better to assume that if your competitors want to see what your product looks like, they’ll find a way; and that it’s better to just get as many eyeballs on your product and as much feedback as possible. Ultimately, it will lead to more awareness and more sales opportunities.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Confidence, empathy, and self-discipline. I believe that to lead a team you need to have a great deal of confidence in yourself and your plan. You can grow your company as big as your imagination takes you. If you don’t believe in your plan, who will? Also, I think it’s super important to build a culture that includes empathy, because your people are truly your most valuable asset. Mistakes are going to happen, and you have to let people make them and learn from them. As for self-discipline, when you’re running a company, you may not have anyone looking over your shoulder to see what you’re working on. So you have to set the standard for work ethic in your company by working as hard as or harder than anyone and you have to be self-driven to show up and do it every day.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Too many entrepreneurs experience burnout, but don’t recognize what it looks like. To prevent burnout, I would highly suggest speaking with a therapist as a proactive measure. You can now access many therapists from the privacy and comfort of home via video conferencing.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
At least in my experience, early in my CEO days, I was really uneasy about spending money and was mostly unwilling to raise capital from investors. I did this because I wasn’t confident that the business would succeed, and I wanted to retain equity. But I would say that if you are starting a business in which there is a real market opportunity, you should push yourself to move fast. Raising capital from investors can be a fantastic accelerator.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
For companies that create a product, product/market fit can be extremely elusive. You may think you’ve found it, then a new customer comes into the fray and changes your perspective, or the dynamic of the market you’re in unexpectedly changes. You have to be ready to adapt, constantly reassess your assumptions, and always have a sort of “the enemies are at the gates” mentality to stay ahead of the game.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Booking new revenue is the fastest way to build momentum, optimism, and motivation in an organization. Our team celebrates every new deal in a shared Slack channel.
- Investors can move as fast as they want to. If they aren’t staying engaged with you through your fundraising process, they’re probably not going to invest. Move on. As an example, I once spent four months working through a deal with a potential investor and then decided to walk away. I ended up getting a new deal done with a new investor in less than a month.
- Give your people a clear career path and let them own projects. At some point, you need to let go and trust in your people to get things done their way. Recognize that the key people you need to get you from 0–1 may be different than the key people you need to get you from 1–2. 0–1 people are hands on, wear multiple hats, and can grind on their own. 1–2 people are experienced, strategic thinkers and project managers that can orchestrate input from multiple departments to get things done at scale.
- Transitioning your business from being hands on with customers to enabling them to self-serve and realize the value of your product themselves, can be one of the most challenging processes in your business’ journey. You need to be hands-on with your customers early on to inform your product, but you will never reach large scale without eventually enabling your customers to self-serve.
- Investing in expensive software to run your business is often less expensive in the long run than hiring several extra people to fill in the gaps left by cheaper software. Also, invest early in a great website and branding — it is key to building a better business in the future. We just launched our new website with updated branding and are noticing the increase in leads it’s generating right away.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Something that I am really passionate about is improving access to healthcare — it underlies our mission at OnCall. Most people don’t have an employer that pays for a virtual healthcare plan. Living in a city, it’s also easy to forget that there are still many communities that don’t have the internet connectivity or personal devices to be able to access virtual healthcare. I would advocate for any initiative that supports improving rural internet connectivity, as well as working directly with governments and insurers to create more equitable access to virtual healthcare appointment options.
How can our readers further follow you online?
The best way to reach me is on LinkedIn. Search for Nicholas Chepesiuk. https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicholas-chepesiuk-29069432/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!