As part of our series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Lensing, CEO and co-founder of Apollo.
Dr. Jon Lensing, a rural Iowa native, earned a bachelors in both biology and biochemistry from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI before returning to Iowa where he earned his medical degree from the University of Iowa. During his last year of medical school, Dr. Lensing founded Apollo — a platform to match medical providers to hospitals — with a classmate. Ultimately, he made the decision to forego plastic surgery residency to pursue Apollo full-time.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Absolutely! I was born in Madison, Wisconsin while my dad was finishing up residency to become an OBGYN. Shortly after, my family moved to Pella, Iowa — a small Dutch town with 10,000 people. Over the next years of my life, I came to understand how important physicians were to small rural towns and the amount of people that relied on them. Because of this, I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a physician. After high school, I went to Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan studying all things science and medicine. Upon graduation, I went back to my home state for medical school — to be closer to family (and for the in-state tuition). I came to appreciate the intersection between business and medicine while I was in school, so when I learned more about the shortages of healthcare providers plaguing the nation, I decided there had to be a way to help solve this problem. This is why I started Apollo — a way to help revolutionize the way medical providers interact with hospital systems. Instead of tethering a physician down to a single hospital for years, why not allow them to work at multiple hospitals to deliver care to areas that are most needed? We want to create a system that allows for the increased mobility of the scarcest resource in medicine — the provider.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of the funniest mistakes we made was not so funny at the time, but we’re lightening up from it. In an effort to grow quickly, we were sending 20k+ emails a day in an attempt to qualify hospital sales leads. Unfortunately, due to some poor data management, we ended up emailing one of our partner hospitals 3 different times within the same day.
We wiped the egg off our face for that one with a series of apologies. Since then, we’ve tailored back our cold outbound to focus on building a great product for our partner hospitals and providers.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
There are two books that I recommend everyone read when they start down the entrepreneurial pathway, because they both speak to the two topics that haunted me most at the beginning and continue to haunt me today. The first is “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. The premise of the book is to explain that the road of business is laden with obstacles. The choices you make and the thoughts you have surrounding each problem will ultimately dictate your success with your company. Instead of seeing each problem as a stumbling block or an obstacle that needs to be avoided, figure out how to move through the problem, rather than around it. Ryan Holiday shares that the most successful way to tackle a problem is to figure out how to benefit from it — use it as a teaching point, use it as a necessary pivot, just use it as an advantage.
The second book is “Rejection Proof” by Jia Jiang. This book is fantastic because as a startup founder, you will constantly be asking people for something — money for fundraising, connections to people in their network, legal advice, business strategy, etc. Entrepreneurs can be some of the most independent and self-driven people you know, because they have to be able to start a company, but this also can be a downfall because they don’t always know how to ask for help. I was the same way. Learning to ask for anything at any time has been one of the important growth strategies for our company. If someone tells you they aren’t interested in your product or service, ask them if you can give them a demo or a trial. Find that random connection on LinkedIn or Facebook for the classmate that you knew 15 years ago and ask them for help.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Throughout four years of medical school, I saw patients begin to drive further and further to see a doctor. Some would drive over five hours to our hospital to be seen, just because the doctor they needed to see wasn’t available in their region or their hospital closed, or their doctor moved away. I began to witness patients becoming sicker, needing more medications and more surgeries, because they waited so long to see a physician due to the long commute.
With that, we founded Apollo on the vision of bringing healing anywhere with a mission to improve community health through the accelerated delivery of medical services. There are no reasons patients shouldn’t be able to receive medical care in a location that is reasonable for them.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
All companies track key metrics, KPIs, and OKRs — statistics that guide how their business is performing. Like others, we do the same, yet we get to track a unique metric that many other companies do not — number of lives saved. This metric acts as our North Star. For each provider that we help match into a hospital, we give a patient a new opportunity at life when they are seen by one of our own.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Personally, my family experienced two deaths from COVID-19. It’s been a difficult and emotional time grieving both.
As a company, we were faced with big decisions on how to operate. We knew that we had the service and technology that could be very beneficial to many people during this time. We ultimately decided to make our service free for 8 weeks in order to lend assistance where we could and help place providers in areas that they were most needed. Prior to the pandemic, Apollo was focused solely on matching physicians, but we quickly developed new intakes and matching systems for all healthcare providers — everything from assistants and technicians to nurses and physicians.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We were fortunate enough to have grown during the pandemic. Because of the nature of our service, we grew by 800% over the course of a few weeks. Our biggest challenge was not having the necessary personnel infrastructure to support the massive influx we received. We had to quickly onboard new team members, learn to delegate on the fly, and learn how to play from behind while we caught up. As a relatively small team prior to the pandemic to growing to over 50 team members is a significant challenge. The jobs that the core team was used to performing were now having to be delegated to other team members. The best thing we did was teach ourselves how to trust other people to hold themselves accountable in performing those necessary tasks.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
As a physician, we have a unique advantage to calm down loved ones during this time. When people panic, they look to other sources for information and encouragement. Being able to fall back on the scientific studies and the research behind COVID-19, I was able to synthesize that information and pass it along to family members to show them that mortality rates for healthy individuals is low. Another tactic that we found to be beneficial was looking back through the history of other large-scale outbreaks and acknowledging that this too shall pass. Medicine will find great treatments, and as a whole we will get through this.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Specifically, within healthcare, I think the playing field has been leveled. Legacy entrenched companies will now have to compete in a post-covid world with small startups. Many people used to believe that in a time of crisis, healthcare would be the most protected industry. This has shown to be false as many providers were laid off and furloughed because of lack of elective procedures and closure of many clinics. As we move into a post-COVID economy, many operating bylaws will be updated with new contingency plans in place, new healthcare policies will be rushed through state governments that allow for rapid onboarding of healthcare providers and the red tape will be rolled back allowing providers to practice across state lines. Within healthcare, there are many opportunities for new ideas and solutions to these age-old problems that have now come to light. Within medical staffing, we have seen a huge redistribution of healthcare providers from areas unaffected by COVID-19 to areas that were highly affected. Once this settles down, we will again witness a second migration of providers back into communities. Finding a way to help manage this flow in an efficient and cost-effective manner will be imperative, and we believe Apollo can be the vessel for that.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
It all depends on the timeframe for COVID-19. If this pandemic dies out over the next few months, I believe we will see a quick return to relative normalcy. However, if the pandemic drags on another 2 years, then many younger generations will have grown up in a period where social distancing was the norm, and those practices may be here to stay — no handshakes, standing farther apart, no group organizations. There are some aspects of life now that I ultimately believe are here for good — telemedicine and work from home protocols, for example. This pandemic has unleashed the floodgates for telemedicine, a technology that has been around for 10+ years but highly underutilized. Secondly, companies have had to adjust to new operating procedures as their staff are now working remotely. We will see companies now start to operate and build protocols for working from home to ensure that they are prepared to manage this efficiently if needed in the future.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
As cliché as it sounds, we plan to do what we can do now until we can fully ramp our efforts back up again. We understand our industry and the economics of it. While things have shifted, many things have remained the same — we just have to adapt to those changes. We plan on growing the pieces of our business right now that are expanding while putting the other parts on hold. Once the pieces start to move again, then we will readjust and start growing the other pieces.
On a personal note, your business is only as good as the foundation it is built on. And as a CEO, that foundation is a team that you have brought together. In order to effectively rebuild and grow, I want to make sure that each individual team member at Apollo feels heard, wanted, and needed. I am going to be taking time everyday to speak with individuals to hear about their experiences during this time, what they need, and what I can do to assist them. I will make their physical and mental health the utmost priority, because they are the driving force behind our success.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would greatly encourage others to do the same. With all this chaos, everyone has had different experiences. Make sure to listen before you speak, learn to hear before you lead.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I first started Apollo, the best piece of advice I ever got was “Don’t be afraid to ask for anything — no matter how big or how small”. If you want to be successful, you cannot be afraid of failure or someone telling you no. Nine out of ten times you will get shut down, but that one time that someone says yes makes up for all the other failures. The entire currency of business is network connections. Ask people around you for advice, assistance, introductions, anything! The only thing you have to lose is time.
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