Imagine a marketplace for physiotherapy. A place where patients can search and evaluate the perfect therapist for their personal need based on price, patient rating and therapist profiles. We had the chance to talk to Jas Chahal and Parag Desai, co-founders of therapia.com and alumni of the Global Executive MBA HSG.
What is the concept behind “Therapia”?
Therapia is a marketplace for healthcare and in its current form functions as an online platform that connects patients with physiotherapists in the comfort of their own home. Patients have the choice of provider based on price, location, user ratings, biography and their personal schedule. Physiotherapists have the opportunity to increase their earnings and benefit from the scheduling, marketing, and electronic medical record features that Therapia has to offer. The goal was to empower patients and practitioners while providing the best healthcare possible.
Who are the people behind “Therapia”?
Therapia has six cofounders. Four of these individuals are alumni of the OMNIUM / Global Executive MBA programme of the University of St. Gallen – Jas and I are both practicing physicians while Ambles Kwok and Luca Fornoni provide technical and financial expertise, respectively. Two additional cofounders, Adam Brown and Joon Nah, were recruited for their extensive business development experience in this vertical. For more information on the team, please visit therapia.com.
How did you develop the initial idea?
Traveling internationally through various continents as part of our Global MBA experience, we interacted with many colleagues, businesses, and cultures that built upon our academic and personal knowledge. This experience highlighted the shortcomings of the medical industry; a systemic disconnect in patient care. Over the course of our travels, we experienced novel methods in which global trends, technology, and customer engagement was integrated by other industries. As healthcare providers we felt our industry was in dire need of similar disruption.
Personal experiences over the course of our travel also laid the foundation to Therapia. In Hong Kong we could summon On-Demand car services via Uber, Airbnb allowed us to find a condo close to the financial district, and across China one of the founders used Skype to check in on his post-operative patient in Toronto. It was obvious that customer convenience and autonomy seemed to always be an underlying theme worldwide.
After becoming aware of a variety of macro trends including decentralization of services in many industries, the increasing movement of healthcare away from the hospital and into the home, an oversupply of human capital in the physiotherapy space, and patients wanting greater autonomy and flexibility in their care, the home healthcare marketplace concept was born.
Has it always been part of your plan to found a company?
Yes. We always had idea fragments that we were never able to operationalize or implement pre MBA. Entering Omnium, as healthcare providers we expected to learn the language of business so that we could put pen to paper connecting these idea fragments in new and creative ways. Our goal was to take an idea, nurture it via the MBA, and have generate early revenue before graduation!
How did that influence your decision making?
Our desire to found a company encouraged the pursuit of the Omnium programme due to its emphasis on leadership and applied innovation and entrepreneurship.
When did you realise, that the idea is worth founding a start-up?
During our European Module in St. Gallen, one of our courses was Entrepreneurship with Tomas Casas. The core of that course was to develop and pitch an idea to a panel of “investors”. This practical experience allowed us to fine tune our model for a succinct pitch, allowing us to obtain “free” feedback from classmates, professors, and the panel. Our pitch was ranked first by the “VC’s” on that day and really served as a driving force to purse this idea moving forward.
Which have been your biggest challenges concerning “Therapia” so far?
Our greatest challenge is being able to dedicate fulltime availability to the start-up while also balancing our personal and job related responsibilities.
Start-ups generally don’t let much space for hobbies and family. How do you manage your personal work-life balance?
As mentioned with the previous question, the personal work-life balance can be a challenge. Obviously some things can suffer to compensate for the other. We could not do what we do without the support of our families. In the past, we had hobbies related to playing and watching sports and travelling. While we continue to remain active, our hobby and passion has become our startup. Nonetheless, it is a necessity to carve out dedicated time for the people important in our lives, both for them and for our personal gratification.
What is the most exciting part of your job?
The most exciting part of this journey has been developing a product that is allowing us to change the way healthcare is delivered. Moving forward, being agile and creating a strategy to grow and succeed remains both exciting and challenging.
When founding your company, which knowledge did you lack most and how did you acquire it?
The applied innovation process allowed us to develop a methodology where we could gather information, connect dots in new and creative ways, and develop solutions in various plausible futures. Experimentation and reiteration allowed for ongoing refinement of an initial MVP that continues to change as we gather data and feedback. Even post MBA, the learning continues in terms of analytics and growth hacking. The foundation in innovation and entrepreneurship from the Executive MBA, however, has been invaluable.
Which learnings from your Omnium GEMBA HSG studies where most helpful for this project?
As discussed, the Entrepreneurship course, in conjunction with courses in Innovation and Capstone have allowed us to think differently in the context of a structured framework that encourages thinking big, thinking differently, and moving forward in a lean and agile way based on data and feedback.
Which part of the studies had the most impact on you?
Most impactful was a subsets of experiences in the above courses. In Entrepreneurship we had the opportunity and coaching by Tomas Casas to go through the process of a “real” startup pitch. In Innovation, our greatest takeaway was recognizing the “ahah” moment as studied in “Connectivate”, and finally for Capstone the “Pirates Marketing Funnel” has been integral in fine-tuning our strategy to grow.
Why did you decide to study in the Omnium GEMBA HSG programme?
Outside of the obvious exemplarily academic experience that was expected with this dual programme, it was an opportunity to learn the business language, cultivate our burning desire to innovate, disrupt, and evolve, as well as travel the world in order to appreciate the culture and business diversity that exists.
What is your connection to the medical sector?
Four of our founders are in the healthcare industry. Adam and Joon are physiotherapists with significant industry knowledge and 15 years of experience in business development, marketing and operations. Parag and I are both physicians. I am a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon working at the University of Toronto. Parag is an emergency medicine physician in USA, and a primary care physician in the Toronto area.
How was the reaction of the industry to your App?
We are still getting feedback from the industry, but so far it has been very positive. We have been growing every month and the early traction at this stage demonstrates good product-market fit.
Which advice do you have to future founders and / or start-ups?
We would say that creating a team you love to work with is very important. The culture to innovate and grow is driven by passion and hard work so finding like-minded yet diverse and complementary individuals allows for a fun journey. Also, focusing on analytics and growth hacking gives you a framework to move forward, pivot, iterate, and hopefully succeed.
What are the next steps for Therapia? How does the near future look like?
Therapia launched in May 2016. Next steps include expanding to additional Canadian cities in the next six months and into the United States. Ongoing iteration of our online platform, the development of a mobile app, and raising capital are also on the short-term horizon.
Jas Chahal is a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon working at the University of Toronto.
Parag Desai is an emergency medicine physician in USA, and a primary care physician in the Toronto area.
They are two of six co-founders of the platform therapia.com.
The Idea for the start-up rose while studying the Global Executive MBA HSG at the University of St.Gallen.