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Six Rules for Building Healthcare Partnerships

Health Transformer

Six Rules for Building Healthcare Partnerships

A cursory glance at the leviathan healthcare industry quickly reveals a near-universal truth: it’s all about gatekeepers. For better or worse, access to patients is guarded by any number of different interests — payors, providers, employers — many of whom are equal in size and immutability to the mythological counterparts the word ‘gatekeeper’ harkens to. Success in healthcare is largely inconceivable without developing relationships, and then partnerships, with these groups. Zeel — the company that made ordering an in-home (or in-office) massage as easy as calling an Uber — is almost totally unique in this respect. Most early-stage digital health companies are focused on a narrow vertical — e.g., selling a specialty- or function-specific software to insurance companies. Zeel occupies a rare space in the health and wellness ecosystem in that the circles of its Venn diagram cover everything from payors to consumers to large employers, sports teams, hotels and spas. Its work spans more than 95 cities and 2,000 corporate partners including Facebook, Pfizer, Zappos and Park Hyatt Chicago. That’s a lot of different gatekeepers to keep in mind. I had the chance to sit down with Zeel co-founder Alison Harmelin, who started the company in 2012 with Samer Hamadeh and Ed Shen, to gather six tips for making partnerships successful. 1. Keep a health moonshot statement as your unifying principle Looking across the various Zeel verticals, you could be forgiven for wondering what insurance has to do with professional athletes. The answer is that Zeel is about “meeting people wherever they are,” be that in physical therapy at a hospital, or in the locker room of a professional sports team. Having a unifying principle helps to think through what your partnership landscape looks like and how it all ties together. 2. Partner with people who reflect your core values Zeel’s brand ambassadors include leading public figures such as Venus Williams (who is also a board member and advisor) and Cindy Crawford. In thinking about how to select these individuals, Alison — who spearheads brand strategy — sought people “who embody wellness in every way.” This requires research and diligence to learn about your partner’s values. The same principle applies to corporate partners. In partnering with Four Seasons and Hyatt, the lens shifts to another Zeel tenet: exceptional customer service. Your partners reflect you and will have a huge impact on who you’re able to partner with next. 3. Prioritize opportunities by ROI Obvious yet easy to forget in the age of abundant investment capital: partnership opportunities must absolutely be filtered and prioritized by ROI. Keeping a lean mentality within the organization is crucial, as it prevents the pursuit of low marginal benefit opportunities. This speaks to the methodical way in which Zeel has expanded from direct-to-consumer, to employers and now to insurance companies. “Obvious yet easy to forget in the age of abundant investment capital: partnership opportunities must absolutely be filtered and prioritized by ROI.” –Maxim Owen 4. Customers are your biz dev team Zeel’s sports business was born when company leadership started noticing athletes appearing in their customer management software. Zeel’s hotel business was partially born out of serving a very happy hotel group CEO on the consumer side. The lessons here are three-fold. Deliver an exceptional product experience to your customers. Engage them and leverage their own networks. Be nimble enough internally to seize on the embers of an emerging partnership opportunity when it presents itself — you might have your next vertical on your hands. 5. Have a playbook for new markets Whenever Zeel enters a new market, whether it’s a new city or a new vertical, it has a playbook. Partner with local therapists and build the network. Then, flip the switch. Identify what type of stakeholder is critical to your success in a market and be methodical about how you approach and partner with them when the time comes to expand geographically. 6. Don’t forget inward-looking partnerships We usually conceive of partnerships as outward-facing, as external ‘business development.’ Zeel also pays attention to ‘inward-facing’ partnerships that benefit internal stakeholders. Learning that many massage therapists struggle to find cost-effective health insurance, the company partnered with Stride Health, a benefits platform for gig and independent workers, to bridge the insurance gap for their 11,000 massage therapists. Taking the time to look inwards and making sure the lifeblood of your business is cared for is an extremely valuable exercise. The multi-channel, cross-platform, bicoastal, ever-expanding world of Zeel 95 CITIES 2,000+ CORPORATE PARTNERS 11,000 MASSAGE THERAPISTS CORPORATE PARTNERS INCLUDE: Facebook, Pfizer, Zappos, Hyatt, Four Seasons BRAND AMBASSADORS INCLUDE: Venus Williams, Cindy Crawford