The Tend Journey – Where to start when launching a start-up

Where do you start when launching a start-up?

So often, this question derails so many fantastic ideas before they even have a chance to begin. Having a great business idea is one thing, but starting it is another. I always say the idea is 1% and execution is 99! 

With three companies under our belt, we’re no stranger to the start-up process. That being said, we certainly haven’t chosen the easy route by changing industries each time. 

Our mission starting Tend was to create a better healthcare system for the next generation – certainly an ambitious vision. The idea for Tend came to us while we were struggling with fertility issues, and hadn’t had appropriate care locally. We successfully fell pregnant only after having a consultation via Skype with an Australian-based fertility specialist, which we talk more in-depth about here. Through this experience, we recognised a gap for making online consultations a readily available service in New Zealand. 

Our vision to make healthcare more accessible by facilitating online consultation through an app had many barriers to entry, significantly that we did not have backgrounds in healthcare or at scale consumer apps. This alone would be enough to turn many away from the idea, but we persisted.

So how did we create New Zealand’s first online healthcare tech startup?

First and foremost, we started with ensuring we had the right people. Our first phone call was to Theresa Gattung and Dr Lee Mathias to talk to them (separately) about the idea for Tend and what we were setting out to achieve. From Theresa, we immediately asked her to join us and from Dr Mathias, we asked her to look at our ideas and business model. Luckily both of them decided to join as shareholders and Directors at a significant pre revenue (or even pre business) valuation. We knew from early on that Tend would be a huge cash burn and that we’d need people who saw the long term vision for not just the business but for the sector too.

We’d read about how Air BnB started and how the hiring of their first engineer was hugely influential in setting the tone for the rest of the business. We asked Kerridge & Partners to find us the best possible technology talent and were introduced to Josh Robb – which was basically love at first sight and remains as such 2 years later. Josh has been instrumental in Tend not just as a Co-Founder and Chief Product & Technology Officer but also has the ability to stretch into the CEO role when we are absent. Hiring Josh was simply the best first decision we made for Tend!

Our other early find was Dr Mataroria Lyndon. We quickly recognised that we needed a subject-matter expert and Dr Lyndon has the most phenomenal background and experience in the digital health care and wider public health sector. His areas of interest are deeply aligned to Tend’s objectives and he has been a lynchpin in shaping Tend from an equity and access perspective. As a Co-Founder in Tend he also works across the health industry and is an amazing resource and sounding board sector-wide.

The research phase:

Considering our previous businesses were neither in tech nor healthcare, we knew that our usual tactic of relying heavily on our gut for decision making wouldn’t be as effective in this context.

James, Josh and I will all say that we’ve never done more reading than what we did in those early start-up days of Tend. We literally buried ourselves in the health sector and diligently reviewed every single piece of information, locally and globally, that we could come across. We all felt a huge need to be able to understand the sector, its stakeholders and challenges from many different angles, not just from our own experience as patients.

Choosing shareholders:

After making some mistakes in the past, we’ve decided that we will only “Work with people who we enjoy working with and learn from, focus on big challenges where we can make a real difference and do it all for the country that we love: New Zealand!”

Theresa was an easy decision according to the criteria above. We love working together and the three of us collaborate closely all the time. We trust each other implicitly and have a huge amount of respect for each other. Theresa probably knows and understands James and I better than anyone else (in the world!). She’s one of the closest people to us and while we maintain a close working relationship we also are lucky to have such a strong personal relationship.

Dr Lee Mathias was an advisor to us in Au Pair Link and we’d stayed in contact all these years. We’ve always had a soft spot for Lee and her industry experience in healthcare is second to none. Her thesis at university became Birthcare (thank you Lee) and she was also one of the founders of Labtest! We simply couldn’t have found a better person. James and I also loved the fact that we had a mostly female board to start with!

Getting funding:

We wrote a brief business plan, less than 10 pages and did a very rough financial model with our baseline assumptions – and then we asked for money! But we didn’t just ask for money, we also committed millions of dollars of our own money to making Tend a reality. Yes, we’re now in a position to do so after reaching financial freedom and pursuing Tend is potentially one of the most rewarding things we’ve ever done. We believe that a huge key to the success of your business is putting your money where your mouth is!

Getting doctors on board:

As with any start-up it can be hard to get people onboard, you’ve got to find your tribe – your believers. One of our very early hires was Dr Graham Denyer, who we employed as our Head of Care Teams. Dr Denyer had been recommended to us by a mutual contact after he’d sought out opportunities in the telehealth space. It was one of those lucky “sliding door” moments where our pathways crossed at just the right time. Graham was in need of a new challenge and we were just realising that we needed Graham.

But overall, doing something new in healthcare is hard. There are a lot of vested interests in this sector and a lot of distrust from people who come from other backgrounds other than health. 

The truth is that the health sector needs expertise from all different backgrounds to truly change it. Initially we found it hard to attract talent for this reason however now it’s getting easier and easier as Tend gains traction.

How and why we brought Anika Moa on board:

We wanted a voice for our brand as we believe healthcare is personal and we relate better to people telling their health stories than marketing tactics. We knew, from very early on, that we wanted Anika as part of our voice. It helps that Dr Mataroria has also had a crush on her since his teenage years and literally his first CD was Anika’s! 

But knowing Anika is even better! We love her down-to-earth, blunt, loving and earnest style. When you meet her, you feel like you have known her forever. You simply can’t help but love her. And that personality and openness really translates well onscreen. She’s an absolute dynamo. Because we had a pre-existing relationship, I approached her for a chat and we shared with her our purpose. Anika is a big believer in Tend’s purpose and what we stand for, and she is working very hard to improve New Zealand for all our tamariki.