Cristian Owen speaks to the woman who quit her job – in January 2020 – to enter the startup world
Julia Regan never thought she’d start a company – not in a million years, she says. She describes herself as ‘risk-averse’, admitting that this is not exactly typical of most founders. Still, almost four years on from founding RxLightning, Julia continues to learn while the company grows and goes from strength to strength. Cristian Owen, our Digital Health specialist, was delighted to catch up with Julia on the Venari Podcast’s HealthTech CEO series, where they discussed Julia’s career, business strategy, and thoughts on leadership.
From intrapreneur to entrepreneur
Having previously worked in healthcare, as well as on the technology and innovation side of the industry, it seemed natural for Julia to go from large, corporate pharma companies to smaller organisations. Despite her cautious nature, she realised that she was at a point in her career where she felt she could make a difference, with ‘an approach that would be really life-changing for the industry.’ Julia describes herself as having previously been an ‘intrapreneur’ with ‘the safety net of larger companies’ and supportive colleagues. Luckily, she’s not had to go back to a corporate role, having had ‘great people around me that have supported me to make the leap and be confident.’
Providing efficient access to high-cost medicines
Julia was inspired to establish RxLightning to improve access to high-cost medicines for specialty patients. Often, medication for cancer, rare diseases, and even severe dermatological or GI conditions can be very costly as well as difficult to source quickly. ‘Traditionally, all of these processes are done with paper and a lot of phone calls and a lot of back-and-forth,’ Julia notes. ‘And as a result, patients are very disconnected’ from the moment they’re told which medicine they need.
RxLightning is a tech solution that digitalises all these processes, connecting doctor, patient and other stakeholders to create ‘true visibility’. She compares the logistics of delivering complex medication to ordering a pizza; you can often track the latter’s whereabouts, while in the case of often life-or-death deliveries of medicine, patients and providers alike frequently don’t know where they are in an already difficult process. Now, RxLightning has provided a tracker for medication, ‘alleviating all the paper burden that traditionally happens.’ As a result, Julia says they’ve seen patients getting the therapy they need within days, whereas previously it might take weeks or even months.
Perfectly imperfect timing
When Julia incorporated RxLightning in January 2020, she had no idea that within weeks the world would be turned upside down. She and her co-founder, Brad Allen, had decided to quit their full-time jobs only to be faced with the tumult of the pandemic. ‘For me, I’m not risky, and then the world shuts down and I’m like, “Oh wow, I just made a pretty big life change and now there’s just chaos.”’ Nonetheless, Julia recognises that the timing was actually a blessing in disguise. Not only were she and Brad able to really focus on building their product without distractions, Julia also admits that ‘there was a lot of nice flexibility’ in not having a corporate job at a time when she was looking after her young children at home. COVID also underlined the need for what RxLightning offers; it was difficult for people to see doctors and sign paperwork with lockdown restrictions in place. ‘It really created an opportunity for a digital solution to automate these processes,’ Julia says, ‘and I think that helped with some of our rapid user growth that we’ve experienced as a result.’
Overcoming imposter syndrome
Julia believes her biggest strengths as a CEO are her deep knowledge of products and her industry, as well as her ability to articulate and communicate solutions ‘to not only my team, but our customers as well as investors’. Still, starting a company is an incredibly challenging process, especially at the beginning. You may not have the resources or capital to come up with the solution to a given problem, so ‘you have just got to figure it out,’ Julia admits. ‘And that’s where the imposter syndrome comes in [...] Some of the simplest decisions that founders have to make early on are what has led me to feel like I’m just faking it until I figure it out.’
Advice for founders
But even as the company grows and becomes more established, the learning process never ends, and Julia is keen to stress that this is normal. She advises future HealthTech founders to ‘surround yourself with people to help make those decisions and educate you, and being able to acknowledge that you don’t know.’ Finding trusted allies to assist you may take time, but once you have the right information, she notes that you can then trust your gut and have confidence in yourself. ‘There’s almost no decision you can make that is going to set you back too much that you can’t recover [from it],’ she notes. ‘So it’s okay to just go forward, surround yourself with people, and then trust whatever decision you make.’