100+ Digital Health CEOs on Navigating Growth, Change, And Challenges

Each year, Rock Health brings together more than 100 digital health CEOs for candid, closed-door conversations about how to build a successful company in digital health. For the 2021 Digital Health CEO Summit, co-hosted with Venture Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, we were joined by a diverse group of CEOs whose organizations’ growth stages ranged from pre-seed all the way through successful exits. Discussions focused on topics like crafting pitches, going to market, inclusive hiring practices, and navigating times of uncertainty. In this intimate setting, CEOs shared honest and valuable insights about their experiences in transforming healthcare.

Below are a few of the standout takeaways from the time together:

1. Relationships drive results
Surrounding yourself with the right people—including your team, investors, mentors, and champions—is integral to long-term success. A key theme emerged from multiple anecdotes around relationship building, and even more importantly, relationship management. Never miss an opportunity to meet people in any setting, because you never know where (or whom) your next investor or partner might be.

“Fundraising is still very much a relationship-driven game. Make sure to build those relationships long before it’s time to actually pursue investors.”

Founders recommended playing the long game when it comes to networking—and do so without agenda and outside of raises—in order to ensure that you have established trust with genuine interactions long before you have a specific request. And make sure you use that time to find the right partners who have capabilities that can propel your particular organization—with all its unique needs and aspirations—forward. Beyond external relationships, founders also shared that building and nurturing a great team that embraces your mission is the only way to be successful. After all, you can’t do it alone—and you’re only as good as the people around you. Finally, when it’s all said and done, pay it forward: spend time connecting new founders with your connections who may find interest in their business idea.

2. Run toward the fire
It’s human nature to avoid pain, loss, and struggle, so it’s probably fair to say that the majority of people don’t start with nor seek out the most challenging element of a project. But lo and behold, that is exactly what the founders who spoke this year emphasized we all should be doing:

“Allow yourself to spend the most time on the hardest and toughest problem. Start there first.”

Their lessons were succinct: don’t be afraid of failure, don’t be afraid to have the difficult conversations, and don’t be afraid to be wrong. And in the meantime, don’t forget to examine those challenges from different angles and perspectives, which is of particular importance in the digital health space. Learning to face the problem allows us to not shy away from it, and to better prepare to forge ahead through all of the trials and tribulations that come with startup life.

3. Be honest with yourself

Many of our attendees expressed how lonely the job of founder or CEO is—and how hard it is to find a space to truly check out from the constant pitching, leading, planning, and strategizing. It was gratifying to hear that this year’s CEO Summit provided that outlet through open, honest conversations and shared experiences. Many of the participants acknowledged the value of peer-to-peer connections, honest conversations and shared learning.

“I haven’t received venture funding yet, which can be really lonely. Events like this really help people like me—I feel like I have a community I can go to when I’m struggling.”

We’re so grateful to all of the digital health CEOs who joined for this year’s event and are already looking forward to next year’s CEO Summit on March 16, 2022 in San Francisco. For more information about attending or sponsoring, reach out to us.

Lastly, a special thank you to all of our wonderful sponsors: Fenwick, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Ogilvy, and JP Morgan; and our co-host, Venture Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, powered by the Wharton School! We deeply appreciate your commitment to the digital health community.