As a part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Schoonover.
Andy Schoonover is founder and CEO of CrowdHealth, a community-powered alternative to health insurance that provides a revolutionary way of paying for healthcare bills through crowdfunding. Schoonover was previously CEO of VRI, a healthcare technology company focused on monitoring patients with chronic conditions out of their homes. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As I transitioned from my former company, I was left in a place like millions of other Americans without health insurance. I had to go to healthcare.gov to get a plan, costing my family about $1,200 a month with an $8,000 deductible. About a year later, my daughter needed tubes placed in her ears due to recurring ear infections and a perforated eardrum. We had that procedure done at a local hospital by an ENT, which took about 15 minutes. We got the bill and it was $8,000 — II was blown away but the ridiculousness had just started. Our health plan told us it was medically unnecessary and that I would be responsible for 100% of the costs. We are fortunate that we could cover the cost, but 95% of Americans don’t have thousands of dollars in the bank to pay for healthcare. I knew something had to change. That’s why I founded CrowdHealth.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When you are trying to disrupt a huge industry like healthcare, there are very large, formidable incumbents that have incentive to ensure failure. It feels like we are walking through a valley with hospitals on one side and health insurers on the other shooting down arrows from above. Then you have people and companies with large organizations as financial stakeholders that try to spread falsities about the business model to scare people away. You can look at that as “hard times” or you can look at that as being a key indicator you are on to something impactful. We at CrowdHealth tend to take the latter approach.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, but their motivations typically stem from a mission for a cause or the money that can be made if the company is successful. From my perspective, the ones that are mission focused have way more staying power than those who are in it for the money. When times are hard, you lean on the “why” you are doing this. If CrowdHealth isn’t successful hundreds of thousands of people will continue to go bankrupt. The middle class will continue to get clobbered by healthcare expenses. Healthcare costs will continue to rise. That motivates me to continue the fight.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
So far, so good. People are so fed up with their health insurance they are willing to try something different even if it requires some behavior change. We are enabling people to own their healthcare journey, and that includes the bills. That is scary at first but if you understand the power of crowdfunding — for example, these bills aren’t too different from crowdfunding causes on sites like GoFundMe — most people are open to giving CrowdHealth a try.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Not only is CrowdHealth offering a dramatically different solution to traditional insurance plans in the marketplace, but one of the major features that sets us apart is our technology and how it provides member accessibility. Specifically, we launched the CrowdHealth app that lets members search for top physicians in their area and submit bills with a quick snap of a photo — it also includes access to a designated personal care advocate that is available to support members 24/7. This is unique in many ways. Not many insurance plans, if any, offer this type of personalized member experience. Every time a member submits a claim or has a question, they are given consistent information by the same person. That’s an important distinction from a traditional plan, where you’re calling a 1–800 number for information and speaking with a different person every time.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Keep your priorities straight. There seems to be some pride in long days within startups. I get in the office at 8:30 a.m. and I’m home by 5 p.m. I wake my girls up in the morning and put them to sleep at night. My best ideas come when I’m in the shower, walking my dog, or other quiet times at night or in the morning. You don’t have to always be “on” to create value for the business.
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?
I have a good buddy, Tim Heyl, who is the founder of Homeward, an incredibly successful startup in Austin, Texas. Prior to founding CrowdHealth, I was considering working with others toward the same goal but hadn’t yet begun. One day, out of the blue Tim texted me with a very simple message: “You were called to start a company. Go do it. No excuses.”
There are a million reasons not to start a company — the risk of failure, the risk of losing money, the insecurities of, “Can I really do this?” creep in. I needed Tim’s encouragement and jumped in.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The mission of the company is to alleviate the suffering associated with health insurance. We have 250,000 people who have health insurance go bankrupt each year due to health bills. We have 70 million Americans who have healthcare bills on their credit cards. We have the middle class who have had no real income growth due to the rise of health insurance costs over the last 30 years. We have 2 to 4 million people who would do something entrepreneurial if there was access to a lower cost way of paying for health expenses. Our goal is to have zero people on CrowdHealth go bankrupt due to health expenses. Our goal is to significantly stem the rise in healthcare costs so the middle class can flourish. Our goal is to help unleash the potential of all those who want to be entrepreneurs. If we can do that, then we’ve done a tremendous good for the world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Find people who are missionaries not mercenaries. Find people who are fired up about the mission and not only the money.
- When hiring, beware of the big company experience. Thousands of people take credit for the successes of the few.
- Perfection is the enemy of good. Get it to good and then move on.
- Do things that are unscalable and learn how to best scale. Building everything to scale from Day 1 negatively impacts the customer experience. Be hands on so you can learn what can and cannot be automated.
- Trolls indicate that you are on the right path. Ignore them.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
The only way I know how to cope with the rollercoaster is to ensure that before you start, you have a community who is willing to love you regardless of success or failure. If your identity is “CEO” or “founder,” then if you fail you feel like you’ve lost everything. If your identity is “dad,” “mom,” “husband,” etc., then if you fail at work, your core identity is still intact. That is a much better place from which to thrive.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 think we’d see an incredible benefit to society if more people divorced themselves from health insurance and took a more active role in how they pay for their healthcare. By introducing market forces into healthcare, we could lower healthcare costs substantially and increase human flourishing in so many ways. I call it Health Plexit, or health plan exit.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!