Adeel Malik is the CEO and co-founder of Clearstep. In his role, he coordinates with Clearstep customers, product teams, healthcare industry experts, investors, and others to ensure Clearstep is at the forefront of driving innovation in care navigation. Adeel co-founded Clearstep out of a desire to revolutionize the way patients can find and access the right care while enabling healthcare organizations to better leverage advanced digital technologies.
Under Adeel’s leadership, Clearstep partnered with some of the leading healthcare institutions in the world. He was featured in Built In Chicago’s 50 Startups to Watch in 2020 and was one of the UnitedHealthcare accelerator’s inaugural members. Adeel was also named one of Chicago’s 20 in their 20’s by Crain’s Chicago Business in 2020.
Before co-founding Clearstep in 2018, Adeel was a strategy and analytics consultant at Accenture. He worked with some of the largest healthcare institutions across pharma, health tech, health systems, and retail. Before joining Accenture, he spent three years as a neuro-immunology researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Adeel says:
Any founder of a startup will tell you that there are mistakes made along the way, but not striking a good balance between building the founders’ product/vision and allowing the market to shape and inform the vision can delay or prevent reaching true product-market fit.
Global expansion is difficult in healthcare coming from the U.S. since it does not have a single-payer system. Every other country in the world has one, so it is not apples to apples.
I keep myself motivated every day by keeping our overall mission in mind, recognizing that all the small tasks we have to do are in pursuit of a lofty goal. There’s a lot wrong in healthcare and tremendous opportunities to make people’s lives better through our work.
Read on to know more about Adeel Malik and his journey.
Please tell me about your personal background and What motivated you to get started with your company?
Adeel Malik: Before co-founding Clearstep in 2018, I was a strategy and analytics consultant at Accenture. I worked with some of the largest healthcare institutions across pharma, health tech, health systems, and retail. Before joining Accenture, I spent three years as a neuro-immunology researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. I co-founded Clearstep out of a desire to revolutionize how patients can find and access the right care while enabling healthcare organizations to leverage advanced digital technologies better.
What is your current main product, and can you share any previous product pivot story to the current product?
Adeel Malik: Clearstep’s care navigation technology makes it easy to find the best, most convenient care. Clearstep matches users’ symptom descriptions to the right point(s) of care with 95%+ accuracy. Users see all possible care options, ranked by convenience and price, and can book online. Payers and providers use Clearstep so their patients can easily access the right care in their complex ecosystems. In March, Clearstep launched a COVID-19 screener so people could screen symptoms and get matched into the right care. The screener is deployed to millions via Clearstep’s partners and has helped hundreds of thousands of people this year alone.
How much money have you raised in total so far? When was the recent funding round?
Adeel Malik: We’ve raised ~$1.3M in a pre-seed round that we closed in the early spring of 2020.
What were the internal decision processes in determining when to begin fundraising, and what were the logistics for this? And how many investors have you met so far, and how did you meet these investors, and which channels worked best for you?
Adeel Malik: We knew we needed capital to expand our team, invest in product and engineering efforts, and create an infrastructure for sales and business development. We determined how much capital we’d need based on expected revenue and operating costs over the subsequent 18 months. We ran through a process of talking to over one hundred venture capitalists by utilizing our personal networks, accelerator program networks, cold reach-outs, and other startups in our network. We ultimately successfully raised money from funds like RRE, OCA, Newark VP, and Techstars.
What are the biggest challenges and obstacles that you have faced in the process of fundraising? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Adeel Malik: Our biggest challenges were (1) that, as first-time founders, we had to learn the ropes of fundraising and (2) that when we initially started fundraising, we had user growth but nascent commercial progress. For a B2B health technology company, many VCs wanted to see more commercial traction before placing bets. As we landed our flagship customers, raising money became a lot easier since we demonstrated a desire for healthcare organizations to purchase digital care navigation technology. If we had to do it over again, I think we would aim to foster more investor relationships earlier on.
What are your milestones for the next round? And what are your goals for the future?
Adeel Malik: We look forward to continuing to grow and hitting our revenue goals. We are excited to demonstrate how our customers are succeeding and hope to renew and grow existing contracts. Our main goal is to continue building a complete ROI story to showcase how Clearstep is revolutionizing healthcare. Our overarching goal is to get closer and closer to achieving our mission to make it easy for people to access the most useful, clear next steps for care. We know from data so far that users love the Clearstep experience and gain tremendous value from our solution. Still, we have tremendous opportunities to build an even more useful and intuitive experience and drive even more value for our customers. Before raising additional capital, we’re pursuing specific user growth, customer success, and revenue milestones.
How have you attracted users, and with what strategy have you grown your company from the start to now?
Adeel Malik: As a B2B2C company, we work hand in hand with our customers’ marketing teams to effectively and efficiently promote our services to their patient populations. The general public generally trusts their doctors and health insurers with healthcare-related information more than tech companies and startups. As such, we leverage our customers’ existing brand equity and engagement channels to promote Clearstep as a new avenue for patients/members to find and access care. This approach simultaneously enables us to reach everyday people to navigate healthcare better and create tremendous value for our business partners.
What do most startups get wrong about marketing in general?
Adeel Malik: Effective marketing is all about strategically reaching your customer audience. Startups may see an appealing marketing opportunity that sounds exciting but does not necessarily make sense for their business or reach their customer. We always determine our marketing actions based on how the end result will increase revenue and further our company goals. The other mistake startups will make treating marketing actions independently from one another. When done correctly, all campaigns and tactics to generate brand awareness should work together and complement one another.
How do you plan to expand globally?
Adeel Malik: We are currently focused in the U.S.; however, we have a deployment in Hong Kong working with one of the largest global insurers.
What are the most common mistakes companies make with global expansion?
Adeel Malik: Global expansion is difficult in healthcare coming from the U.S. since it does not have a single-payer system. Every other country in the world has one, so it is not apples to apples.
How do you handle this COVID-19 outbreak situation for your company’s survival in the future?
Adeel Malik: Technology and healthcare companies continue to navigate how to best respond to the pandemic. As a care navigation company, we knew we had to act responsibly and quickly once COVID-19 made its way to the U.S. so users could specifically use our services when experiencing symptoms. The Clearstep COVID-19 screener offers providers and payers a platform to allow concerned patients to screen symptoms and is powered by content derived from clinical triage protocols and the latest CDC guidelines. Our triage endpoints (i.e., where we route users) are completely configurable to guide patients to the care resources, ERs, telemedicine offerings, and testing sites in each of our partners’ ecosystems. We created this screener and deployed it with full integration into a 17-hospital system in nine days, which showcased how Clearstep can act swiftly and precisely to tackle emerging healthcare concerns.
But even before COVID-19, we’ve all experienced how difficult and confusing it can be to navigate our care online. We’ve been building Clearstep over the past few years to turn the internet into a place we can trust with our healthcare. We saw the need for an effortless solution to route users to the right care, at the right place, and at the right time. COVID-19 has certainly accelerated the industry’s willingness to adopt technologies like ours.
What are the most common mistakes founders make when they start a company?
Adeel Malik: Any founder of a startup will tell you that there are mistakes made along the way, but not striking a good balance between building the founders’ product/vision and allowing the market to shape and inform the vision can delay or prevent reaching true product-market fit.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And What advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
Adeel Malik: The CEO of one of the world’s largest health insurers once advised me to focus on the Clearstep team, above all else, and surround myself with the best people possible. As an early-stage startup, putting the right people in place to do the right job is one of the most important (and difficult) things to do.
What are the top-three books or movies (TV series) that changed your life and why?
Top 3 books: Sapiens, On The Road, and The Great Gatsby — all have either provided a great perspective on life or created a motivation for adventure.
How do you keep yourself motivated every day?
Adeel Malik: I keep myself motivated every day by keeping our overall mission in mind, recognizing that all the small tasks we have to do are in pursuit of a lofty goal. There’s a lot wrong in healthcare and tremendous opportunities to make people’s lives better through our work.
What are the top-three life Lessons that you want your (future) sons and daughters to know?
- Constantly pursue knowledge
- Become motivated to have an impact on the world
What would you like to be remembered for?
Adeel Malik: It would be having a positive impact on the communities around me.
You can follow Adeel Malik here.
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