“Our ambition is to not just make pharmacy better, but healthcare better, and make it less of an obnoxious experience.” – CEO TJ Parker.
PillPack is doing things that Pharma companies only dream of. When we think about the Pharma and Healthcare space, we think – orthodoxy, red-tape and bad corporate culture. What we fail to think about is the fact that there are multiple startups that are making the industry more approachable and consumer-friendly. That’s where PillPack comes in.
One look at PillPack’s Blog and you’ll know that they’re also putting the “people” back into the healthcare space. They’re humanizing the many faces behind disease states, medication adherence and medical support. PillPack’s approach is one that’s focused on sharing stories that inspire those that have similar conditions. A very engaging blog post talks about the Chef who can’t taste his creations due to anosmia.
Before PillPack, TJ was a regular college student, helping out his dad who worked as a pharmacist in the local region. He would perform routine tasks, checks and ensure that everything ran smoothly. Until one day, TJ had an idea. He wanted to revolutionize the way we think about pills, by making them more accessible and manageable. His dad was already doing something similar at a much smaller scale with nurses and hospitals directly, and TJ wondered whether he could do this for everyday customers as well.
What he didn’t realize was that he was solving the massive multi-billion-dollar problem of medication adherence. At least, that’s what he had figured out when he started to approach investors for capital. Among his many doubters was his father. “My Dad never thought this day was going to be possible” says TJ. His father later joined him as VP at PillPack when he was instantly converted after experiencing the software first-hand. What started as humble beginnings for TJ, is now a multi-million-dollar consumer tech product.
It was a life changing video by Steve Jobs, that inspired him to change his perspective on life and work. In the video, Steve suggests that entrepreneurs poke at the systems that society had created and start something that helps other people out. Among other factors, these wise words by Jobs helped shape the mindset early on for TJ.
What started out as a 9-person operation and a $20 monthly fee in 2014, ultimately became a Forbes’ Billion-dollar feature. They’ve grown leaps and bounds over the last 3 years and have focused on enhancing user experience and customer acquisition. It’s estimated that they currently have over 40,000 users signed up to the program, and they’re not looking back anytime soon.
TJ thought about the industry from a different perspective. He actually cared about the customers who had to travel long distances and refill their medication. At first glance, we might brush this problem off as patients being lazy, but if you look at it from the customer’s shoes, you’ll see a different picture. “They’ve gotta go to the store three or four times a month because the pharmacy can’t even fill them the same day. Then they got to call their doctors constantly to get refills to make sure they don’t run out of the medication. And then they’re sorting this pill box once a week on Sunday nights.” as TJ right points out.
Before PillPack, Pharmaceutical companies would push boxes, educational programs, packets, and delivery services so that you adhere to the dose cycle. TJ didn’t think that they were very effective in the long-term. In 2016, PillPack faced a very public battle with Express Scripts Holding, a company that manages pharmacy benefits for millions of people on behalf of health insurers. Express claimed that PillPack misrepresented itself, and was kicked out of its program, thereby disconnecting over 1/3rd of its customer base.
While TJ was certain that it wasn’t his fault that the partnership fell-through, he knew that he didn’t want to back down under the pressure. He turned towards innovation instead. He launched a website called FixPharmacy.com and featured the stories of 400+ PillPack users who will be affected by this change. It was a bold move but keeping in line with TJ’s general attitude towards being brave and facing your challenges head-on. What happened next? They worked it out and it was business as usual. For TJ, it was just another day at the office.
The company is trying to shake things up in the almost $300 Billion medication adherence problem. When 60%+ people in America live with one or more chronic condition, they need access to medication on-time. “Our first three years have been maniacally focused on simplicity and convenience,” shares TJ
When they first started off in 2014, they had all the licenses and registrations locked in. However, to advertise themselves, they had to wait almost 9 months to be able to market themselves online. They leveraged the power of social, search and online marketing to grow their brand and attract tens of thousands of customers. They managed to rake in around $20 million in revenue in 2015, and they haven’t looked back ever since.
TJ’s also faced many doubters and media critics all his life, who didn’t really give him the credit that he deserved. He worked hard to reach a point where many would think he’s become successful, but his definition of success is a bit different from what you’d normally think. “Success for me means I’m happy and healthy, working on things that I find meaningful and challenging. I wake up every day feeling lucky for the opportunity I’ve been given and excited about the people I work with. I hope in five years I’m as excited to come to work every day as I am today” is how he views the long term in the business.
PillPack launched less than 4 years ago, and now have an employee base of more than 500 people in its 100,000 sq. ft. facility. They’ve raised close to $118 M in VC funding, allowing them to fully expand into multiple areas and verticals.
They’re eyeing $100 M in revenue this year, and they’re hoping that new regulations will create increased opportunities in the healthcare space. Their customers – on average tend to be in their mid-50s, and on average take 7 medications each including prescriptions and vitamins.
With a self-measured NPS of 80, they’re keeping their customers happy through the process of registration, fulfillment and subscription management. For TJ it’s all been worth it in the end. What started as a roller-coaster of a ride, turned into some of the most fulfilling experiences of his life.
What does he think about it looking back at it all? “There is a misconception that you have to have everything figured out when you first get started. That isn’t the truth, part of being an entrepreneur is being adaptive.”