Now more than ever Americans are looking to save however they can, especially when it comes to healthcare. 411Rx directly addresses those needs by providing them help in finding their meds for the best price using an easy Chatbot. It’s as simple as that.
The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?
In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewingShane Neman.
Shane prides himself on being a problem solver and a consummate optimist which are traits that have been significant advantages in his life as a serial entrepreneur. His experience and expertise in business span many industries from technology and telecommunications to real estate and hospitality. After earning a computer science degree from NYU, Shane started three tech startups (two of them — EZ Texting and JoonBug — were acquired) with hundreds of employees and tens of thousands of customers. He’s a prolific backer of startups and late stage companies including Impossible Foods, Convoy, Prose, and Universal Standard, Apostrophe, MeetMindful, MapAnything, VinePair, TeamFlow, Hyperice, ResiDesk and many more. Shane’s also a real estate investor and developer who owns more than two dozen large-scale properties across the U.S. ranging from commercial shopping and industrial centers to residential buildings.
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 fascinated early on by the application of computers to biology and medicine which led me to pursue a degree in Computer Science and Pre-Med at New York University. Following a summer internship at the NASA biology labs at JFK Space Center, I enrolled at NYU Medical School. With the Internet boom of the late 90’s unfolding around me I couldn’t resist jumping on the bandwagon and working for an Internet startup. I left Medical school and took a position as lead developer of NYC-based Convey, one of the first blogging systems for publishers — long before the word “blog” even existed.
Shortly thereafter, I gathered a number of my close high school and college buddies to start our own Internet venture. Offyx was born and it was a web portal designed to deliver applications through the cloud using Citrix technology. It was our attempt to leverage computing and eliminate the need for IT staff for SMBs. As it turned out, Offyx was too early to market but the experience taught me what I needed to know to move forward with confidence to my next venture.
In a pre-Facebook, MySpace and EventBrite era I founded JoonBug: a suite of software solutions that married all aspects of the offline events world with the digital world. I spent the next eight years building the company to 25 million dollars-plus in annual revenues and over 75 employees.
We were first to market with technologies such as online photo purchasing and social sharing, exhaustive event databases, location-specific email newsletters, and e-ticketing systems. We also delved into large-scale event production, executing over 300 events annually, with over 100,000 total attendees.
In 2006 as the efficacy of email marketing newsletters began to diminish, I had the idea of reaching consumers through SMS on their mobile devices as a more potent alternative. This marked the birth of EZ Texting; a SaaS SMS communications platform (think Constant Contact or MailChimp for texting) that I designed and built to enable businesses to affordably and easily market to consumers via SMS.
For the next two years I simultaneously headed JoonBug and EZ Texting until I sold JoonBug to a long-standing competitor and channeled all of my attention to EZ Texting.
By 2012 EZ Texting had amassed over 50,000 customers and annual revenues in the seven figures. In 2013 EZ Texting was acquired by CallFire — a cloud communications company — with the help of Morgan Stanley, Investor Growth Capital, and Multiplier Capital.
A few years following the acquisition I left EZ Texting and began Neman Ventures, where I mainly focus on building my own startups and investing in Venture Capital, Real Estate, and Hospitality.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I hit a few major catastrophic moments a few years into growing EZ Texting. At one point our service was blocked by T-Mobile from messaging their subscribers which essentially rendered our platform useless. To put things into perspective: Imagine trying to sell a cell phone which can’t call or text anyone who’s phone number is on T-Mobile. It was a “David and Goliath” situation for me because I had unsuccessfully tried all diplomatic means to get through the bureaucracy of a multi-billion-dollar company which saw my company as a pion. I quickly realized that I was in an urgent do-or-die situation and started my search for the best telecommunications litigation lawyer (who I potentially couldn’t even afford). Thankfully I found one in Washington DC, home of the FCC. My attorney, Mike Hazzard Esq, was able to file an emergency injunction in NY Federal Court for me that finally settled the situation and brought our service fully back live and we were able to survive despite being bruised and battered by losing a lot of customers. EZ Texting is now the largest SMS platform for SMBs in the US. Albeit that didn’t come to fruition without a ton of sleepless all-nighters, a heavy unaffordable legal bill, and the emotional roller-coaster ride that puts extreme skydiving to shame.
Since then, I have had many more instances where I hit rocky roads in both my personal and business life, but from this experience, and many more like it, I have been able to get through them more with more confidence and peace of mind.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Get comfortable being uncomfortable”.
It’s the tagline that I live my life by and I even printed on a label stuck to the bottom of my monitor as a constant reminder! Being an entrepreneur or a startup founder is mostly glamourized by our culture and the media. But in reality, it’s the most unglamourous and sucky career path you can choose. It’s much easier to work for someone else and leave work behind after punching out a 5pm. Being successful at running your business is a 24/7 endeavor that permeates every aspect of your life from your health, to your personal relationships and your family. You will find yourself doing things that you never thought you would have to do, and many times they are things that you absolutely hate to do or that you are not good at. The key is coming to terms with this and understanding that being uncomfortable is part of the process. It will never go away. You can get better and better at emotionally handling the inevitable unease that awaits you, but nevertheless it’s always tough to get through. If you can build the emotional fortitude and mindset to always put yourself in uncomfortable situations then your odds of being successful and growing as a person tilt in your favor. I’m always looking forward to my next struggle: whether it’s starting a new venture, investing in a new asset class that I am not familiar with, or trying a new diet and workout plan. I know it’s going to either fail and lead me to my next opportunity or pleasantly surprise me with another success.
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?
I unequivocally owe everything I am and have to my parents. Their work-ethic and attention to family and community is something that I have strived to emulate in my own life. My parents were Persian Jews who immigrated to NY in the late 70s during the Iranian revolution. It was about a month before I was born and they had to flee and seek asylum in a hurry to escape so they left their country and upper-middle class life with just one suitcase and a few hundred dollars in their pocket. My father was an architect and had gone to school for almost 8 years to become one of the leading ones in Tehran and my mother was an English tutor as she had gone to boarding school in London. When they arrived in Brooklyn, NY they didn’t really know anyone until my grandparents and other family were able to flee too and escape and join them. But somehow, they managed to find a place to live and pivot their careers. My father would have had to go back to school and start all over again if he wanted to work as an architect again — something they couldn’t afford to do. Instead, they decided to create their own clothing line since my dad was great at design and my mom could help him make the clothes. They started their hustle and the struggle was super hard and real for them. My father would spend his nights designing and helping my mom make clothes and then he would spend his days going door to door to various boutiques in NYC trying to get orders. Slowly and with a lot of hard work and luck they were able to open their own boutique a few years later and we were able to move to a larger 1-bedroom apartment in Queens and then years later to a nice suburb called Great Neck. They had created a mini clothing factory in the basement of our suburban house and I would often find myself falling asleep down there listening to the boombox they had going with Persian music while they worked until 3am and would eventually carry me back to my bed in the early morning.
When I turned 13 my father developed stomach cancer and within 2 months passed at the age of 44. It was a tragic loss for my entire family, especially my mom. She was only in her early 30s and completely devastated. She had to not only contend with losing the one true love of her life, but also somehow mastermind a plan to raise me and provide for us since she obviously couldn’t handle the clothing business without him. All while being a young woman who had been unbearably sick with renal and autoimmune disease for more than half her life and having no more than a spotty high school education because of her sickness (she was the first child to ever receive a kidney transplant at the age of 12 in the US). She began to work and built her life again; she turned an impossible situation into a miracle. Single handedly and despite all odds, she faced her challenges and raised me and put me through college at NYU.
While I was in my junior year in college, she suffered a massive stroke that left her paralyzed on the left side of her body, requiring her to get a 5th kidney transplant and hospitalized for almost 2 years. She was only 38 years old. Most people would have totally given up on life, but my mom dusted herself off as soon as she regained her strength, and went to several more years of rehab every day. She learned to walk again and became self-sufficient to the point that she would drive, live on her own, and work every day with even more fierceness and passion than before. She was a brilliant and super successful business woman who would often leave her peers in awe by out-working and outwitting them.
Throughout all this time I can NEVER remember a single instance where my mother complained or was bitter about her problems. She always was thankful and hopeful that things would become better through hard work, determination and the grace of God. Despite being knocked down time and time and time again, she would get back up with a smile, thank God, and work towards a better future. Witnessing all of this revealed to me the secret of life that she knew all too well; to win you must learn to accept your circumstances and change yourself to overcome adversity.
Another great lesson my mother taught me was to truly believe in yourself and dream big. I attended NYU Medical School and after the first semester I realized that I didn’t want to become a doctor but instead I wanted to start a software technology business. After she already paid for the first year’s tuition, she looked at me and without hesitation said, “My love, just go and do it. I know I am going to read about you in the newspapers and you will become famous internationally.” The next day I never went back to class and never looked back. Her progressiveness and cheerleading gave me the courage to follow my passion and succeed without fear.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe the best and most difficult way to bring goodness into this world is by raising smart, compassionate, caring and emotionally intelligent children. Being a parent has been absolutely the hardest job I’ve had, but it’s also the most important one if you believe in giving back. You know the quote “Charity starts at home?” Well, it rings true for every parent since your children will become the legacy you leave in the world. If you are charitable to your kids with your love, time, compassion and unwavering commitment to teach them ethics, manners, and how to be a good person then I believe you have done more for the world than potentially donating millions of dollars to even the worthiest of causes.
With that in mind, for the last seven years (that’s how old my eldest child is) I have been dedicated to prioritizing and reserving my time for my children and family. When I am creating my schedule for the next week or month, I first block out the times that that would give me the best quality time with them; whether that’s in the mornings, after school or during their school breaks. Next comes anything I have to do for my health or wellness, like workouts and doctor visits (so I can stick around long enough to enjoy my kids when they’re adults too). Only after that do I then start booking business meetings, calls and quiet time to read and work on different projects. I still manage to get most of my work done, but it has definitely come at a cost of giving up great business opportunities that have come across my desk. Although these ventures would certainly bring me great financial success, they would also require giving up my time with my kids and wife which I value as priceless.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
In September of 2020 I launched 411Rx ,which is the first ever intelligent Chatbot prescription drug price comparison and saving tool, in an effort to help all American consumers find the best priced prescription drugs at their favorite local or online pharmacies. 411Rx makes finding the best priced pharmacies and receiving prescription coupons for up to 85% off as simple as chatting online with a friend. The service allows any US based consumer to get great savings in three simple steps:
1. Tell Us Your Meds.
Have a quick chat with us about your prescriptions on the 411Rx Web Chat, RCS Chatbot or Smartphone App.
2. Get the Best Prices & Coupons.
Prescription med prices are different at each pharmacy. 411Rx’s Chatbot finds you the best savings and coupons for your meds.
3. Show Your Coupon & Save.
Show your free coupon to the Pharmacist when you pick up your meds or use them with any of your favorite online pharmacies — up to 85% with or without insurance!
What’s most interesting about 411Rx is not the webchat or app version, but the RCS version, which is what we are mostly focused on. RCS (Rich Communications Services) enhances the built-in SMS messaging on Android phones (which constitute the majority of the smartphones in use today across the globe). iPhone owners already enjoy iMessage which allows you to do things like sending read receipts, high resolution images and videos, and see typing bubbles when someone is replying when messaging with other iPhone owners. RCS is Android’s version of iMessage which theoretically should work across all new Android version handsets and there are rumors it will be compatible with iMessage … eventually.
While this might not seem like a big deal, it’s a huge leap forward for the hundreds of millions of users who are stuck using the 160-character limit imposed by traditional SMS. Yes, I know there are things like What’s App and Telegram but SMS is the one and only built-in messaging app that is pre-installed on every phone and more widely used than any other communications app. It’s frictionless, easy to use, and doesn’t require an internet connection — all you need is cell reception and it even works on one bar!
RCS also allows for the use of Chatbots through the Android messaging app. That means that you can directly message with your favorite businesses like your bank or your go-to clothing brands and do things like place orders, get customer service, return items, check your balance — all without having to place a call or wait on hold! iMessage already has this and they call it “Business Chat” with large companies like Fidelity participating. RCS has only started to roll out on certain carriers and on only a limited model of handsets.
Currently the 411Rx RCS Chatbot is live on some versions of Samsung Galaxy Android phones on T-Mobile and will launch on AT&T, Verizon, and Tracfone throughout the course of 2021 which will expose our Chatbot to tens of millions of subscribers. We’ll also be included in the Chatbot directories on AT&T and other carriers as they roll out, which makes our service as well as others, much more discoverable. It’s definitely an exciting time and I am looking forward to the challenges ahead!
How do you think this might change the world?
I am not sure if it will change the whole world but we are starting with just the USA, where spending on prescription drugs continues to be one of the fastest-growing healthcare costs facing Americans. Factors that have driven the increase in prescription drug spending include increased use of disease-preventative and quality-of-life enhancing drugs by patients, direct marketing to patients by pharmaceutical companies, usage changes to newer, higher-cost drugs, and price increases by manufacturers. Also because customers choose a local retailer for their prescription drug needs without knowing if there are better deals available at other nearby retailers, they fail to take advantage of promotions and coupons for prescription drugs, either because they are unaware of such discounts, unable to find them, or lack time to search for them. The need for cost savings has also been exacerbated by COVID-19 and the devastating economic impact it has had on all Americans.
Customers would like the convenience of being able to quickly use their smartphone or other mobile device to find the nearest prescription drug retailer at the most competitive price available. There is a huge need for automated bots that interact with consumers in real-time to quickly and conveniently obtain the most competitively priced prescription drugs at their local retailers. That is why all the major US Carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile are enabling our 411Rx Chatbot on Android based phones through RCS technology, which will allow consumers to easily chat through their built-in text messaging app on their phone with no app download or web browser needed.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
I can’t think of any drawbacks to Chatbot technology other than perhaps larger companies somehow relying on them too much to interact with their customers. There’s nothing that can substitute for real human interaction and it’s the only thing that builds relationships and trust. Companies may lose sight of that and try to have bots take over for all of their customer interactions which I think is the wrong direction to go towards. Most of the time you just want to get some simple info quickly and that’s great for a bot or app to handle. But sometimes you need a real human to help you with the complex and emotional issue you are facing.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
My good friend and colleague Alykan Govani, who is the CEO of AirFind recently moved to Miami a few years ago from NYC. We had worked together extensively during EZ Texting and this gave us a chance to work together on new projects. I was at his office just catching up and he showed me the new RCS Chatbot directory that was just launched on AT&T. There were only two or three chatbots available in beta at that time but I spent a few hours playing with them and was fascinated by the possibilities that laid ahead. What had started as a friendly personal catchup lunch turned into a new business brainstorming session within a few hours. For the next several days we racked our brains coming up with a list of different ideas for chatbots until Aly had to use his RxSaver app to go get a coupon for a prescription he needed to pick up and that’s when he frantically called me with the idea for 411Rx. I got to work the next week prototyping and coding the alpha version. Within 4 months we had a working beta version ready for launch and we have been enhancing the product every day since then.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
The only thing we need is time. Carriers and handset makers are notoriously slow at rolling out new technology but the good news is that the ball has already started rolling and I believe that in a few years RCS will be widely available on all carriers and Android phones. Once that happens, I think Apple will also adopt the technology therein making it ubiquitous and available on all phones. Also, as consumers start to interact with Chatbots more often I believe they will prefer them over apps that perhaps perform a similar function. It’s arguably easier and more intuitive to have a natural language conversation than use an app interface to get the info or service you need.
The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?
Now more than ever Americans are looking to save however they can, especially when it comes to healthcare. 411Rx directly addresses those needs by providing them help in finding their meds for the best price using an easy Chatbot. It’s as simple as that.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.
1. Don’t Take Anything Personally
I stole this one from the book “The Four Agreements’’ by Miguel Ruiz. It’s one of the four principles that the book is founded on that help you lead a more enjoyable and happy life. I read it for the first time about 8 years ago and it had such a profound impact on my psyche, that I make it a point to re-read it every year when the new year rolls around. When I was a young entrepreneur, I would take everything that was said to me to heart. It didn’t matter who was saying it, but if it was any sort of criticism, I would spend hours perpetually over-analyzing and thinking about it and oftentimes lose a whole night of sleep.
For example, when I started EZ Texting in 2005, a lot of my friends and colleagues would tell me that my idea was crap and that SMS was old technology and I should be focusing on things like in-app messaging or a messaging app. I even had one of my own family members laugh at me after showing them the beta version of the software I created and I told her I was going to charge 5 cents per text message for businesses to use it. She chuckled and said I should go and focus on big money instead of pennies if I wanted to become successful. Even though I didn’t end up listening to any of them, I did spend a lot of time and energy doubting myself and worrying about what others thought of me and my business. It took a lot of practice, experience, and a magical book like the “Four Agreements’’ to help me overcome that struggle. In the end, they were all wrong! SMS usage continues to grow at a rate of 20% a year and has the largest read and open rates that far exceed any other communications channel currently available.
2. It’s Risky Business
For the past few years, the majority of my time has been dedicated to thinking about risk and how to control or leverage it to the maximum extent possible. When I was just starting out, I was assessing risk using my gut and not taking into consideration that there are many things that I don’t know that I don’t know! That led to a lot of bad decision making. However now (after several years of intense studying, reading, watching, and obsessing about this subject), my approach to assessing and thinking about risk has significantly changed.
Now that I am older (44) and run my own Venture fund called Neman Ventures, I am naturally much more careful and risk averse unless I can find an asymmetrical business deal where the upside risk is much more than the downside risk. Through studying others that are gifted at gauging risk and my own experiences, it’s become more and more obvious to me that the only way to manage risk (and more importantly be successful at it), is the ability to do several things well including:
– Remove your emotions from the equation (this has been the hardest challenge for me to overcome and I am still struggling with it!). In many instances learning to control your emotions is even more important than being smart and working hard.
– Be alright with saying “No” to most opportunities if they don’t meet your risk profile/tolerance — no matter how exciting and full of potential it might be. Remember the quote: “The more you know, the less you diversify.” I’d rather have a handful of winners in a small concentrated but well thought out and risk profiled portfolio than a huge unmanageable portfolio of investments or deals that would likely not even give me the same returns.
– Don’t be fooled by the outcomes of your decisions. Don’t become overconfident just because you made a good investment or decision, since it might have more to do with luck than your ability. On the other hand, don’t become too hesitant to take another risk on a deal where the odds are in your favor just because you were burned on a similar deal before.
– Always leave chips on the table to be able to recover if you are wrong — i.e. Don’t go totally “ALL IN” — ever!
3. Shut Up and Breathe!
In March of 2020 when the pandemic first began, I was home alone and like everyone else I was worrying all the time and on the verge of a freaking total meltdown. To top it off, I’ve had debilitating chronic back-pain for the past few years that naturally flared up. I tried to get my mind off things by watching some Netflix and came across an episode of GOOP dedicated to Wim Hof. I watched with skepticism as he showed his breathing technique and made bold claims that it can cure pain and reduce inflammation in your body. But at that time, I had both nothing to lose and nothing better to do so I downloaded his guided breathing app and gave it a shot. After the first 10-minute session, I felt good for the next hour so I decided to try it for the next week. I dedicated 15 minutes per day to breath work right after I woke up. By the end of the week, and to my amazement, my back was 90% percent better! I hadn’t felt this good in many years despite all the different therapies I spent tons of time (and money) trying to cure myself with. By the end of one month, I was completely better and since then I haven’t missed one day of breathing!
The Wim Hof Method of Breathing fixed my back but what I began to notice is that I was more energized, more focused, less anxious, and generally nicer! With that came better judgment and more success in both my personal and business life. I was also enjoying working a lot more and not dreading my endless to-do list. I don’t think it matters which breathing technique you do, but it’s important to learn how to quiet your mind if you want to be successful and even more importantly, if you want to be happy. If you can manage your breath you can manage your mind and life.
4. Power = Compounding
Everyone knows Warren Buffet’s rule about the power of compounding and allowing your investments to do their job over long periods of time. If you had simply bought the S&P Index 20 years ago and closed your eyes you would have some serious cash now. The same thing can be said about every business experience you may have, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a success or a failure since they both compound to give you the tools you need for your next challenge. Every hardship I have ever endured seemed like a dooms-day scenario to me at the time, and even for a while after. But eventually (and perhaps years or decades later) I was able to use the lessons I learned from those hardships to my advantage in new opportunities that I became involved with.
Remember the story I told you earlier about almost losing my business and suing T-Mobile? What I left out was that about two years prior I went through another large lawsuit where EZ Texting was the defendant. Litigation is the worst thing on earth to go through and is akin to corporate terrorism. It was the first serious lawsuit I had been involved with and so I was terrified. Yet, without getting into the technical details, after the previous lawsuit was settled some of the information and rulings from it became key to our case against T-Mobile! Ironically when I was going through the T-Mobile lawsuit, I was thankful that I had gone through the previous one even though it was the most torturous experience I had been through at the time.
5. Success <> Happiness
Alright this is so cliché! But unless it was most likely true, it wouldn’t be one, right? If you are like me and you have ants in your pants, and are always looking to hit your next goal, please don’t forget to enjoy the ride. All that comes at the end of achieving that goal is a fleeting moment of happiness, followed by setting yourself another goal! True happiness is learning to enjoy the ride and not necessarily the achievement of the goal. Namaste!
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. 🙂
I became plant-based about 4 years ago after my son was born and my wife decided to start an alkaline diet to lose the baby weight. We took the journey together and it has positively changed my health, blood sugar, cholesterol, weight, mood and appearance that I could never imagine going back to eating animals. I think if we globally changed to plant-based or mostly plant-based eating, it would solve our dire obesity epidemic which drives the world’s leading causes of chronic diseases and subsequent mortality rates, financial ruin from rising healthcare costs, and leave us in a much more sustainable environment.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.