Sophie Chung, MD (Qunomedical) | Democratizing Access to High-Quality Healthcare (Part 2)
Behind the success of Qunomedical is a bold and strong woman who values attitude over experience and unites her multicultural team around a strong vision. Part 2 is about Sophie’s hiring philosophy, her experience with fundraising, how she thrives with as little as 3-4 hours of sleep, and much more! Missed out on Part 1? Start reading here!
So you are building this really big business with a lot of moving parts, how do you get people on the team excited about this, how do you recruit and what kind of people do you recruit?
My philosophy is to hire based on motivation, attitude, and commitment over experience. I think if you are smart enough and committed enough, you will be able to learn almost anything you put your mind to. I would say at least half of the people working at Qunomedical are doing the job they are doing for the first time. They come from very diverse backgrounds, we have 30 different nationalities and speak 35 different languages altogether. We have a male to female split of 50%, even on our tech teams. I am not that interested in knowing what this applicant has done extensively in the past – even though that is a good sanity check – I want to know what he or she can bring to the table here at Qunomedical and how willing they are to work hard and be committed to our values.
Values is the second thing. We are a very value-driven company. While many people say that, we hope to be among the ones who really live them. Our highest value is patients first. We are a two-sided Marketplace working with both doctors and patients. so, being very clear about who your primary customer is, is so important in many decision-making points.
Lastly, I think we all are aligned around the vision of making the world a better place. One of the questions I ask during the interview process is, why Qunomedical? The strongest candidates and the best team members that I have are the ones who have a personal story. They may have wished there was a product like Qunomedical on the market when they or someone they loved needed it. People who can personally relate to what we do are the ones I think can identify with our vision and mission.
So you’re based in Berlin and you have a large multicultural team there with 70 people. How do you keep that together from a cultural perspective? Is everyone in the same office or are they virtual? You also have a lot of helpers all over the world – how do you communicate in a company like that?
Against the current trend of being decentralized, I feel like we are the most centralized team in Berlin. A lot of people talk about diversity as a thing that is amazingly great and everyone should be doing, but diversity comes with a lot of challenges. If you combine a bunch of people with different educational backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, different ways of growing up, ages, genders, sexual orientations or religion – there has to be some friction and friction can be bad and good. One of the principles we work on is to be able to agree to disagree and that is something we’ve really tried to uphold and live, even though it can be very challenging at times. It requires a lot of work and team management to make this work.
Do you have regular team meetings and how do you keep everyone in touch?
Usually, on Monday mornings we have our core team meeting. This is when all the team leads come together for 45 minutes to review the last week and kick off the next week. Then at 1 p.m., because we work in different shifts around the world, we have our weekly all-hands meeting for the whole company to set the goals for the week. It’s structured around things done, current challenges and the KPIs we loved up or down.
During the week we have various team meetings and one-on-one meetings, and we conclude the week with another all-hands meeting to talk about what we built on the technology and product side of things.
Once a month we have this fun thing called Quno-panel, where I get to interview one of our team members about everything in life. I love it. We are around 70 people right now and we make continuous efforts to foster closer connections and cross-team communication.
It sounds like there is a lot of communication going on. High marks on that! As of right now, you are in New York at the German Accelerator office to take a closer look at the U.S. market. What is your assessment of the U.S. healthcare system and where do opportunities lie for Qunomedical?
The U.S. Healthcare System is highly interesting because it is very unique in terms of how it has evolved historically and how it is built. I think the main difference when you look at the U.S. market versus for example the European market, is who pays. In most European markets there is statutory health insurance where you as a patient sign up and you are basically covered. In the U.S. it’s not as easy because of three reasons: employers are involved, health insurance is optional, and it’s damn expensive. That leads to a lot of different problems such as people not being able to afford healthcare and healthcare being one of the largest spends for the U.S. economy. It also leads to huge quality differences and disparities among the healthcare providers and the different states. Therefore, I think it is crucial to bring more transparency into the market and empower patients to understand what their health care options are – what are the prices, how is the quality, where can they go, how long are the wait times, and so on.
So, why did we not start in the U.S.? The U.S. is huge and with a big market comes also big complexity and big risk. I made a conscious decision to choose a smaller-market to learn and get to a stage of product-market fit before I was willing and able to roll this out in a larger market. Now I feel very much ready to bring our product to U.S. patients as well.
So, you are building a big business with a lot of people, you need a lot of money for this business. You have raised more than $5M so far from a variety of international investors. Talk about your experience as a first-time founder and female founder. How was it?
Raising money is quite an experience. You get bits and pieces about how that works but until you take the plunge yourself and actually do it you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s challenging. Especially with a product that is a little more unconventional. We are not copying anything that is already big out there. We have to do a lot more explaining. Digital health in Germany a few years ago was not a very big thing and we had to pretty much build our market on the investor side of things.
Is it harder as a female to raise money? The answer is yes. It’s harder and there are a lot of studies out there to show that. But, that doesn’t mean you should not be doing it. If we would not do things only because they are hard the world would not change. Something being hard never held me back from doing it.
Pretty much all the VCs I encountered in Germany were male. They are used to speaking to founders who look the same, speak the same, and probably also went to the same schools. It’s one tribe that is very consistent and coherent. Now imagine someone like me walking into the room. Someone who did not go to business school, a young woman who looks Asian but is actually Austrian and is building a digital health startup that nobody has seen before. Of course, that causes a little bit of skepticism and raises some questions.
A lot of investors I have spoken to understand that there is a market and a need, but they look at me and think “is this the next billion-dollar founder sitting in front of me”? Probably I am the first species they see that looks like this verses the hundreds of guys walking into their office being a few inches taller than me. I think there is some pattern recognition and some intuition there that creates friction and makes it harder for women to raise – not because they are less good, under-representing themselves or not communicating well, instead, I believe it is more of a communication pattern.
One big way to change it is to get more female founders into the room and really generate this attitude shift by becoming successful. The other thing is, as you’ve mentioned, I have raised money. Not everyone is like this, but as women we should focus on those people who are willing to put money into a great idea independently of who the founder is in terms of gender or ethnicity. As an investor you cannot afford to not look at an upcoming group or tribe of new founders you might have not considered before. I feel like there is some market pressure as well. If you ask me, the time to start a company has never been better for female founders.
Have you raised money from any females so far?
From one, but I think that was more of a coincidence. The money came from a woman but the investment manager was a man. I have probably pitched to 200 different investors so far and only a handful of them were women.
A lot of Germans come to the U.S. and think the money tree is somewhere downtown and when you shake it 10 million will fall down. Of course that’s not the case as you know. One thing I always like to tell founders who come here to raise money is that fundraising is a numbers game. You have to hit a lot of people and you have to talk to a lot of people. Every investor has different agendas or different timings and in the end, it is very similar to sales in my opinion.
It is very much a sales process. My fundraising funnel and the way I built it, is very similar to how my business development team builds their funnel. It’s a lot of hustling but it’s also about finding the right match. I feel like a lot of founders easily forget this. They see the money but they don’t see the person or the group behind it. Once you get an investor on board you need to be able to work with them for a very long period of time. So you have to do due diligence on your investors and really think about what type of investor is right for you.
I very much agree with you. I believe that for people like you who have raised money already in the current market environment, where the focus is going more towards female founders, it will be much easier to raise another round. Not necessarily for a first-time founder who has never raised money.
You have a lot of energy and I am sure you work a lot. How do you keep a balance between work and life or is there life right now or is it just work?
I’m not a big fan of the word work-life balance because it implies that there is work and there is life. My goal is to remain in a state where I can say that there is no work and there is no life because everything is one. Just an anecdote here; a couple of hundred years ago in Germany artists didn’t have work-life balance in the classic sense. They would wake up and live and breathe and produce art. At the end of the day, they’d go back to bed and live the next day fully again. They lived their art. This is how I view my current life as well. I found something that I am super passionate about and I really truly believe that we at Qunomedical are building something great. We impact so many people’s lives every single day and this gets me up in the mornings and inspires me to go to the office each day.
Yes, I work a lot. I work 15, 18 or 20 hours a day and sleep only 3 to 4 hours a night. And I’m good with it. And at the same time, you are right, you have to take care of yourself, your mental capacity and health. This also means making sure that you, as a human being, remain a well-rounded person. So there are certain things that I do to keep me from my office and screen. I workout a lot for example. I do a lot of mental work each day so I consciously make time to do the opposite where I don’t think but just work physically. That means getting up early and going outside to workout a few times a week. I go outside no matter what the weather is like, let it snow, rain or storm – I’m out there. I do believe that helps with my immune system. And the third thing I do is I consciously choose the people I spend time with outside of the office in my social life. I’ll spend time with people who give me energy and people I want to surround myself with and try to keep the people who do the opposite out of my life as much as I can.
Okay great, I’ll do a workout with you but I’m not so sure I would want to be outside in the cold (laughs). One last question here before we wrap up. You are now scaling your business and hiring more people, you may also be looking to raise some money – who should get in touch with you and why?
Anyone who is interested in what we do. If you are a doctor or healthcare provider who has an opinion or who just wants to work with us, please get in touch. If you are interested in working for us, whether you have started a career in healthcare or are about to switch again, we really don’t care about what you did before, we care about what you bring to the table. Of course, as a founder I am always interested in speaking to investors, so anyone who is excited about bringing and new healthcare idea to the U.S. market, please hit me up. Last but not least, if you think that bringing more and better access to your employee group would make sense for one or two treatment categories, let’s have a chat.
About Sophie Chung
Sophie Chung, MD, is the founder and CEO of Qunomedical, a digital health platform focused on medical tourism that is providing patients worldwide access to high-quality affordable healthcare. Prior to founding Qunomedical in 2015, she served as Director of Healthcare Strategy at Zocdoc, a healthcare technology startup focused on locating doctors and booking appointments. Sophie also previously worked as a project manager for McKinsey & Company’s Healthcare Practice in Germany where she worked with government, hospitals, health insurance and pharmaceutical industry clients. After earning her MD degree from the Medical University of Vienna in 2008, Sophie gained first-hand experience in treating patients as a doctor in Australia, and tackling the complex issues involved in providing people with access to healthcare whilst working at an NGO in Cambodia.
German Accelerator Coffee Sessions:
#GAcoffeesessions is our interview series that aims to capture the lives and careers of thriving German entrepreneurs around the world. This month’s edition is a tribute to Month of #GAccelerateHer, German Accelerator’s campaign for the empowerment of female business leaders in honor of #IWD2020. Check out our blog for more exciting interviews and articles!