Stephanie Tilenius successfully led her first startup through an IPO. Now she is taking on the healthcare space, which makes up 20% of GDP in the United States. Her latest venture, Vida Health, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Centene, Lumir Ventures, Hamilton Lane, and Canvas Ventures.
In this episode, you will learn:
- How Vida Health is changing the healthcare space
- Effective board dynamics
- Servant leadership and leadership styles
- Growing yourself as a leader
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About Stephanie Tilenius:
Stephanie Tilenius is an entrepreneur and intrapreneur who builds products, platforms and businesses from the ground up. She is currently the CEO and founder of Vida, a tech company in the health sector. Prior to Vida, Tilenius held executive roles at Google, eBay and Paypal.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: All righty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have a quite an inspiring guest I think we’re gonna be learning a lot you know going from tech to health care. You know from the corporate you know tech world to really going at it and and building you know, um. Her her own company I think that you’re gonna all find this quite inspiring so without farther. Do let’s welcome our guest today Stephanie Teleenius welcome to the show. Thanks.
Stephanie Tilenius: Great to be here. Thank you for having me.
Alejandro Cremades: So originally born in Ohio and I know that you’ve moved a little bit also going to San Francisco eventually but give us a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.
Stephanie Tilenius: Ah well I grew up in the midwest where everyone had good values and we played outside. There were no devices and so is a fun upbringing and then we moved out to the bay area. Well before tech kind of ah took hold and so we lived in San Francisco and really enjoyed. Ah, the city and um, the you know, just love the experience of growing up here and the city’s changed a lot since I’ve been here, but it’s still a fun place to live.
Alejandro Cremades: Then you eventually moved East You know when you went for your studies right.
Stephanie Tilenius: Yeah I went I went to college and business school backy. So I lived in Boston for like ah like 12 years worked worked and.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s incredible and then you did your Mba and eventually you started your first company. So how do you land on your first company.
Stephanie Tilenius: Yes, ah well I I was trying to solve I was in the venture I was actually at Intel in the venture space and I was looking at problems to solve and came upon. Ah, pharmacy benefit management and chronic disease as an area and so started planet rx and we went public in October of ninety nine and then we were sold to Ri Aid ah and then after that I was um I was either going to start another company I was actually interviewing with a couple of. Folks and I ended up interviewing at ebay with Meg Whitman and I told her I was likely to start another company. In fact, I wanted to meet her because I wanted her to be a mentor and then um, one of our my investors from benchmark had introduced me to her and. Really had all the intentions of doing something else and she convinced me to interview at Ebay and I realized that I could be an entrepreneur inside a big company and then I stayed at ebay I was there for nearly a decade between ebay and paypal.
Alejandro Cremades: And what is it like to work with someone like Meg Whitman I mean 1 of the most incredible leaders.
Stephanie Tilenius: Well I have to say I’ve been really fortunate to work with Meg and then Rajiv or Cf the cfo at the time and all the leaders at Edd Ebay and Paypal tremendous people and then same at Google with um, you know Larry Sergey Susan Jonathan like just. Tremendous tremendous people and I feel fortunate to have those experiences they all like maybe better and still stay in touch with many of them today and Meg was a great mentor Meg. Um, in particular having a woman in a leadership role and watching her. Ah. You know drive the company and build this legacy was is incredible.
Alejandro Cremades: And there you were running on 8000000000 p and l so that’s quite a responsibility. Yeah.
Stephanie Tilenius: Yeah, at the end I I was at ebay early and then I went to paypal and built a lot of what is now public like the Paypal Merchant Services business ah after we acquired them. We scaled it off ebay and built mobile. And then I went back to ebay to do the turnaround and I was Svp of ebay.com which was an $16000000000 p and l.
Alejandro Cremades: And I guess say you know what were some of the lessons. You know that you took away because even though you know different companies you know, still in the same segment and they’re pretty amazing ah companies I mean some of the biggest companies you know ebay google Paypal. So. From all these leaders that they that you were able to work with I mean you were mentioning Larry and Sergey from Google the founders make whitman from ebay I mean were there any specific traits that they or ingredients or patterns that you were able to see from them that they. Perhaps you know like you got inspired and and and and that you really you know learned and and you’re like you know what? if I run my own business. You know I’m definitely going to implement. You know those those things that I’ve learned from them.
Stephanie Tilenius: Um, well I would say you know those cultures had a ah really high bar for high quality people execution and innovation. I mean we innovated our way through problems. Time and time again and it gave me a lot of confidence that you could solve problems that way. Um I think the other big learning was that they changed the world. Um, you know ebay ushered in economic democracy through its platform I mean there were people. Who made a living on ebay and they put their kids through college through the income from ebay they bought their homes I mean it was really remarkable and I I was just so inspired by that and then at Google we were really trying to improve the world on so many levels like not only aggregating the world’s information. But. You know, building things like waymo and having an impact beyond just search and so I got the bug early on to you know, do something that changed the world. But I I think there were like more specific lessons around tech that I could apply to health care that I knew needed to be applied to health care. So. When I first started looking at healthcare I realized that the consumer experience was really lacking and I had you know the the experience of building. Great consumer products and scaling them and Nps and really focusing on the day-to-day usage of the product I remember it.
Stephanie Tilenius: At Google Larry had this expression called the toothbrush test if you if you didn’t use the product 2 times a day then it wasn’t useful and so when I went to healthcare I said we have to build something that passes the toothbrush test. Um, and then the other The other realization was you can build platforms that scale to millions of users. I had that experience personally but I also grew up in these environments where it really mattered that you scaled that you had impact and I mean I remember at Google like if you didn’t have a product that scaled to 100000000 people. It wasn’t relevant. Um. So I had to unlearn a little bit of that when I went into the startup world because you have to start small and scale very you know, systematically, but when I had the vision for Vida and understood how to build a platform in healthcare I thought about scaling to 100000000 users scaling across channels building something that. Um, wasn’t bespoke for every channel or every customer but really could scale and then the the last thing I I embraced um from my experience at Paypal was that regulatory investment can be a strategic moat There was a lot of infrastructure. Trust and safety and regulatory needs that we had to put in place at Paypal that became a real strategic advantage and I recognized it in healthcare you had to embrace the system and the regulations and learn how to build within it and around it.
Alejandro Cremades: Now there is 2 events that you know, kind of like came together. Um, and that were the final push for you to get involved and to and to and to launch it to bring essentially be that to life now one is you know something that you encountered ah that happened with your father. And then another one is perhaps ah becoming in entrepreneurp in residence for Kliner. So how did this 2 come together in order to push you to to bring this company to life.
Stephanie Tilenius: Um, and.
Stephanie Tilenius: Well I was working with Mary Meeker on the digital growth fund at Kleiner and working on companies like my fitness pal and next door and square and others and um.
Stephanie Tilenius: I also when I was at Google my father had multiple chronic conditions and I was looking for a solution. In fact I I would have probably built vita at Google I was just really early in my thinking and at that time Google x was not really interested in healthcare but ah. I knew there needed to be a solution. So my dad had diabetes obesity chf c opd and depression and he had multiple doctors and he was on multiple medications but nobody was looking at the underlying route drivers of these conditions and managing him day-to-day and I knew there needed to be a platform. With connected devices with someone caring for him talking to him reaching out looking at his stress his sleep his nutrition his medication adherence none of that was happening and so I kept tinkering with this idea I I had um I had multiple prototypes and then. Eventually I actually shared it with 2 venture capitalists who are who were friends who are my first investors and they saw the the prototype and they were like you have to go do this. This is amazing and by the way it brings together like. Everything in your career all your skills like it’s ah it’s a platform. It’s a consumer experience. You know how to scale um a marketplace of providers and provide care to enterprises and consumers and and you’ve done things with a regulatory bent to them so you really have to go do this and.
Stephanie Tilenius: And so it all just kind of came together but it was a lot of little things that I did along the way to bring it to that place where um, a lot. You know it’s like when you’re building a brick wall. It’s like you build 1 brick at a time and then all of a sudden it comes together and you realize how much work went into it. But it’s not an instantaneous type.
Alejandro Cremades: And for the people that are listening to really get it. What ended up being the business model of vita. How do you guys make money.
Stephanie Tilenius: Thing.
Stephanie Tilenius: We make money by selling to large enterprise customers. So we have customers like Walgreens and Cisco and Boeing and prudential and Northrop Grumman and we sell to. To them a multi-year contract then they provide it to their employees as a service. We also work with large insurance companies and we just want an 8 year medicare government contract and so we work with a lot of Medicare customers now and they provide it to their members. So we’re either selling to. Ah, a large health insurance company or an employer and then they provide it to their employees and their members.
Alejandro Cremades: So now quite an interesting shift day here for you know we could say you were used to doing tech and now health care. So how was that shift and then also what are some of the comparisons between one another.
Stephanie Tilenius: Well, ah they both change the world and for the better so that’s at the core of it. The most important thing and then when you look at um, the lessons that I can apply from tech in terms of. Ah, building a product that has a high nps like we have an over an ad nps that really is used on a daily basis. We have the majority of our users using our app 5 to seven days a week um and we’ve built a platform that scales. Ah, and then we’ve you know, really done the work to make sure that we. Hipaa compliant and we have high trust certification. So a lot of the strategic investment around regulatory. So yeah, they’re very similar in the investment that you have to make to win in a category. Um, and then in terms of marketing and enrollment. It’s also really similar in terms of. Ah, some of the direct- to-consumer Mark and even though we’re an enter we market to enterprise customers. We do do a lot of directto-cons consumerer engagement and enrollment and so those lessons are very similar.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in this case, you know like part of pushing this and you know achieving that Nps you know Nice score. And and all this you need you need you need the right people so when it comes to really getting the right people and to building an amazing company culture. How do you How have you guys thought about you know going about that with either.
Stephanie Tilenius: You know it’s funny because I had exposure to the early days of Paypal and ebay and so I had this? um I had this sense that you just hired some great first 10 employees and then you all set. The great example and then it all went from there and it was actually relatively easy to build culture I I think that was a false falsehood in my mind and once I got into building vdi I realized wait a minute you actually have to be incredibly deliberate about culture. And set values and align and spend time talking about the values and your values have your mission and vision and values have to match to your business model your customers. So we we spent quite a bit of time shaping. Um our cultural values and making sure they. Really matched to what we were trying to achieve and how we wanted to operate and we celebrate them like in in all hands we acknowledge people that are living the values. We tell stories around them so people really understand what it’s like to be part of our company and actually we just won a very large customer and one of the reasons we won was because of. Our cultural values which I was sort of surprised by. Ah but I think it’s it’s like a garden and you need to constantly tend it and update it and improve it and you can’t just let it ah rest on its own and assume that it will grow.
Alejandro Cremades: So and obviously part of bringing all these people in as well is getting them excited about the future that you’re living into so as part of that How have you thought about vision and execution and to also putting it in a way in which everyone is rowing.
Stephanie Tilenius: Um, webinar.
Alejandro Cremades: You know in the same direction. Okay.
Stephanie Tilenius: Well so we we’ve always been very clear about our long-term vision of eradicating chronic disease. We’ve been super stubborn on that vision and a little bit more flexible on the details to get there. Ah but were really careful about um, communication and. Ah, okrs objective and key results like we’ve had o cares for the longest time now. We we have top level objectives for the company and then they ladder down to every team. Ah and everybody knows the metrics we’re trying to hit and we do. A lot of operational process around making sure that we’re on track. We do pre-mortems and post-mortems before launching a new product or a new customer. So. There’s a lot of process I’ve I’ve really learned to love process. Um, it creates transparency and accountability. Um, and we have a saying inside the company that you know you get 1 % better every day then you’re 30 times better in a year and so we really aim to try to be 1% better every day.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in this direction if you were to go to sleep tonight Stephania and you wake up in a world where the vision of be thy is fully realized what does that world look like.
Stephanie Tilenius: Well you know 40% of the us has like a cardio metabolic disease. Whether it be obesity or diabetes or hypertension. Ah, and it’s even worse. It’s 1 to 2 times higher in black and hispanic communities. So. Vision would be that everyone’s using Vita. It’s embedded in the employee benefits that are offered by employers as well as embedded in health plans and it is the day to day continuous care model for chronic disease.
Alejandro Cremades: And obviously I’m sure that you’ve had to share this with investors too and you guys have raised quite a bit of money. How much money have you guys raised today and what has been that journey of raising that money like for a company like this. Yeah.
Stephanie Tilenius: About 200,000,000
Stephanie Tilenius: Well it continues to always ah surprise me the in the raising Capital. Um, we haven’t we have. We’ve been Fortunate. We haven’t raised capital in a while. So we’ve been hunkered down and executing which is nice. Um. But it’s It’s always a journey right? when you start to raise money, especially now with this new market in front of us I think it’s a different world before it was all about growth growth growth and now I think it’s about ebidda and path to profitability and so you really have to know what market you’re going into And. Ah, how you fit the metrics that everyone’s looking for.. It’s easier in the beginning when you’re raising a series a or B. It’s all about vision and the team and then as you get to C and D. It’s more about your metrics team. Also of course matters. But. It’s It’s more about real tangible. You know Ar R and revenue and margin and it’s it The numbers matter a lot more later stage.
Alejandro Cremades: And obviously when someone is giving you the money they expect to have a seat at the table right? and and to perhaps you know help with the strategic thinking of the of the roadmap that you have in front of you now in your case, you’ve sat in 4 different boards at the public companies. So.
Stephanie Tilenius: Um, ah.
Alejandro Cremades: Tell us about effective board dynamics.
Stephanie Tilenius: I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot on these public boards as to what works and what doesn’t work and I’ve tried to deploy some of it at btime. Obviously we’re much smaller. So Um. We’re a bit more agile and and you don’t have it. Ah, we don’t we we just put in a place a comp committee and an audit committee but generally it’s more strategic and focused on the customer. Ah but really good board communication is vital and then like having a relationship with board members and talking to them in between. Board meetings making sure everybody’s aligned and if they if people have outside um, outlier views or you know they think something totally different than another board member and you’re really trying to hear them Out. It’s important to listen and understand everyone’s perspective. And bring people together to have that really important transparent conversation and then our you know our bringing our team and giving them exposure to the board and having them present and so everybody knows everybody and we’re having a really open dialogue I think is really important.
Alejandro Cremades: And in terms so of as well. The um scope and size of the operation. Just so that the people that are listening to get it. You know anything that you can share in terms of number of employees or anything that you feel comfortable sharing.
Stephanie Tilenius: Ah, we’re about 600 employees so series d company 600 employees
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing now. In this case, you know when you think about the different lifecycles that a company goes through and you were alluding to the O Krs and you know just the alignment you know with the team and the culture the values. How how do you think you know people should think like.
Stephanie Tilenius: For her.
Alejandro Cremades: When it comes to scale when when when really shifting and maturing from one cycle to the next like how also do you grow because the Stephanie that is leading be that today is probably not the you know the same responsibilities or the same you know Stephanie putting fires. I mean I’m sure you’re still putting fires nowadays but different types of fires. You know at a seed stage. No. So so how you know have you thought about scale from one cycle to the next and then also how did you rally the team you know around that tomb.
Stephanie Tilenius: Well, you’re constantly changing I think all of our leaders are constantly evolving with the scale of the company and you have to recognize that and put the work in to do that I mean in the early days I remember being in every pitch and designing every you know. Every Google slide or powerpoint presentation and now you know we obviously have a sales team that does that? Ah, so you really your focus changes as you scale it becomes more about people in process. Ah, but as a founder you’re constantly like if there’s a problem you sometimes. Dive in deep and really want to try to solve the problem I I encourage founders that as you scale the company that you have um, either do every job or have some exposure to it before you hire the person that is going to be on your leadership team so that you really understand it. Um, and. Ah, you have to be able to go high and go low and always be strategic but also get involved in the details where appropriate. But but really know how to let other people lead because as you scale you can’t do everything so you’ve got a higher amazing talent people that are better than yourself. And um, and you’ve really got to make sure that you’re having the right conversations so that everyone’s inspired and has full clarity on what we’re trying to achieve transparency ah and is um is also leading down right? So that.
Stephanie Tilenius: There’s like clarity across the entire org.
Alejandro Cremades: Now 1 thing here that is that that really it resonated you know and and that I thought it stood out is how how well you positioned yourself. You know during the you know these different shifts that you were going from from 1 incredible company with incredible leaders to the next I mean the people that you’ve been. Fortunate enough to work with you know alongside and and also all the lessons that you’ve taken from that. How do you do the same now on the other way around where you know you’re more the person that is looking to get people you know around you and and being at the right place to be able to find the right people.
Stephanie Tilenius: Well talent is everything right? That’s all we are is a group of people trying to make something happen and so you really need to spend a lot of time with people and make sure you understand what their dreams are it has to I’ve I’ve always said it has to be a win-win. Like someone who’s on your team. They want to be there because of what we’re trying to do and it has to be a win for them in their personal goals and their career. It has to fit with their life. Everything? um and I realize increasingly as a Ceo I mean you’re a servant leader right? You’re you’re a servant to the mission and vision at a company. A servant to your team to your employees to your shareholders I mean and your job is to make everyone around you better and you know constantly improve yourself so you can make everyone else around you better and but we’re we’re all just here to at the end of the day especially since we’re such ah, a mission and vision-driven company. We’re just so focused on. Achieving scale so that we can help more people.
Alejandro Cremades: Now 1 thing that about helping people you know one thing that really is incredible is how covid you know has say changed things right? and in the. Covid world that we live I mean before you, you wouldn’t even see like doctors or nurses you know and then in covid you know like you would see them on the front pages and now you know healthcare you know it has taken a different shift and there’s people looking at it with a different light where is healthcare going as a whole Stephanie.
Stephanie Tilenius: Well covid was a ah real shift in the sense that everyone realized that telemedicine is here to stay and increasingly consumers are comfortable with you know, asynchronous and synchronous care I mean you know we have an app when people can talk to their coach on video through. Chat we we connect devices. There’s constantly communication back and forth. Um, and so that has become the standard even though it should have been the standard even faster than than it than it has been I think covid was a real shift and there was like like a. Ah, 10 year probably acceleration in the in the service of of how health care is delivered and a recognition that this is here to stay so that’s great I think when you look at the future of health care though. We still have some some big problems in the sense that it’s um, 20% of gdp. It’s. Over $4,000,000,000,000 and we still really haven’t solved some of the fundamental problems so we can’t we can’t wake up in a world where it’s 30% of gdp. That’s a real problem so services like Vita lower the cost to care pretty significantly and so we need more automation. We need more services like what we do. Ah, we need more continuous day to day engagement with the healthcare system by consumers and we we need to redesign the insurance model. Um, and there’s a lot of work. We need to do and and it has to happen because we I mean it did. We don’t really have a choice in the matter.
Alejandro Cremades: And when you’re building a company like this that really impacts the lives of of people I mean not only you’re dealing with the challenges of of really pushing a hypergrowth company like like you guys are doing but then also you have the regulator regulatory side of it. So How do you balance? you know that day. That uncertainty that you encounter from both angles.
Stephanie Tilenius: Well, we ah we watch the regulatory environment and we invest behind you know, like so we we are hipaa and high trust compliant we we’ve done all the work to be deployed from a government and Medicare perspective. Um. In many ways cms is medicare is a leader in driving change in the industry which has been helpful. So yeah, we follow everything they’re doing. We try. We haven’t really done it. We’re too small to do like lobbying or try to influence some of the decisions but we do work with leaders at the Ada and others. Where we really try to influence policy and I think that’s really important I think more more in more healthcare innovators need to come forward and have a dialogue so that we can solve the problem together.
Alejandro Cremades: Now imagine if I was to put you into a time machine Stephanie and I bring you back in time I bring you back in time to perhaps that moment where you were thinking about starting something of your own you know and before even you got started with planet Orx and.
Stephanie Tilenius: That are.
Alejandro Cremades: And let’s say you had the opportunity of giving that younger Stephanie 1 piece of advice. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Stephanie Tilenius: Um I Guess the first would be patience is a virtue which I don’t have a lot of but I’m learning um, be stubborn on the vision but flexible on the details. And hire the best people and ah build a really strong culture and change the world together and then put process in place and really try to get 1% better every day.
Alejandro Cremades: Has there been you know as you have really developed yourself as a founder because obviously you got to always keep pace with the with the company. Ah you know? In fact, you know you see it a lot a lot of times that. The company outpaces the speed you know at which the founder is is capable of of keeping up with so in your case, how have you gone about that so that you could go from one cycle to the next and really keeping track and and pushing things forward have have there been any resources there that you’ve used or. Books that you’ve read or people that you’ve surrounded yourself with that have been very impactful in this journey.
Stephanie Tilenius: I Read a ton I am always ah a sucker for like the new leadership books that come out and I listen to a lot of podcasts. Thank you for your podcasts and I also am part of different groups like ypo and um.
Stephanie Tilenius: Aspen Institute and then other founder forums. So I’m always reaching out to other people that have been in my shoes and asking them for advice and you know also from a health care perspective really trying to learn where policy is headed so we created a set of advisors and I have. Built mentors in the industry and trying to understand how we can influence change. So it’s it’s multifaceted.
Alejandro Cremades: And now there’s probably a lot of people that are listening that are wondering Stephanie how they could reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Stephanie Tilenius: Oh that’s easy I’m just Stephanie at vida.com
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing, easy enough. Well Stephanie thank you so much for being with us today. It has been an honor to have you on the dealmaker show.
Stephanie Tilenius: It’s been wonderful to interview with you. Thank you for doing this.
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