We had the great pleasure of hosting Luke Hejl, Founder and CEO of TimelyMD at our January lunch for our client founders. It is a great opportunity for our clients to learn from entrepreneurs that are just a couple of steps ahead of them. We felt as if we were an insider when TimelyMD announced a huge capital raise of $60 million in late January.
TimelyMD started as a telemedicine company for university students who couldn’t get quick access to care. As the mental health crisis in higher education grows, the company has heightened its focus on caring for student well-being, with services offering on-demand emotional support, scheduled counseling and psychiatry. It serves over 80 U.S. private and public schools, including schools such as Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Notre Dame and Emory University.
Rocks and Rabbits
To understand how Luke got to where he is, let’s flash back. As a kid, he sold rocks to neighbors. “In Austin, there was a lot of quartz on the acre that I lived on, and so yeah, I could dig it up and it looked really pretty to me and the neighbors were nice enough to buy it,” he said.
But wait, there’s more. After discovering that the gestation period of a rabbit is 31 days, he decided he would breed and sell them for $15 a piece. “I thought I was just a kid having fun,” he said. What he didn’t realize was this was where his entrepreneurial journey began.
“I just thought I was a kid having fun.”
Fast forward. Today, he has moved on from rabbits and rocks. He has led the growth of a multi-million dollar company and established values that are central to its success. “Accountability is the first one,” he said. He described this as an imperative pillar for employees in their personal and professional lives.
Passion and innovation are other core values at TimelyMD. He says innovation can happen in any role at the company. Whether it's improving a process, the tech or the way it solves students’ problems.
“Anybody in any role in the company can be innovative...”
Growth and quality are TimelyMD’s final core values. Growth goes beyond revenues. It is equally important to provide opportunities for employees to grow within the organization. With regard to quality, Luke never takes his eye off this ball. He says it’s something he never wants to lose sight of — no matter how much the company grows.
One question Luke continually asks himself: “What's the impact that we're making?” Not only does he want to improve the lives of his employees and students, but he says he wants to take the resources they glean as a company and invest them back into important causes.
“So, this [past] year for holiday, instead of sending nuts or chocolate to all of our customers, we made donations to a fund that was important to students on campus,” he said.
Healthy students are happy students.
So, why would universities care about providing this service? With 30% of students dropping out of college during their first year, retention is a significant reason for partnering with TimelyMD.
“What's interesting and impactful to the institution is that we're helping the student be healthier. Therefore the student is more engaged in what they're doing, which leads to retaining that student, which is really the No. 1 metric that any higher education institution is looking at,” Luke said. “We work to recruit them and get them as a freshman. It's really important that they stay for all four years really for the success of that student. Of course, ultimately for the success in the metrics in regards to the institution as well.”
In the wake of the current mental health crisis, TimelyMD saw an opportunity to quickly provide value. So, it built its own medical provider network. Within this network, it offers psychiatry, health coaching and 24/7 mental health providers.
So how does it actually work?
“...It's all done via mobile device… [and] we brand the programs for the institution. So, for example, Abilene Christian was our first customer. It's called Wildcat Care,” he said.
TimelyMD is the higher education market leader in telehealth for students. “It was very emotional to read the results that we got from the market research done … by our capital partner, and the things that they heard from our customers about the service that we deliver and the needs that we’re solving, and how we are leaps and bounds above anybody else attempting to do this within higher education. It was pretty impactful,” Luke said.
The making of TimelyMD
Luke started thinking about telehealth as a business in 2015. He was at a panel at South by Southwest. “They were talking about the shortage of primary care providers and I couldn't stop thinking about that.”
“They were talking about the shortage of primary care providers and I couldn't stop thinking about that.”
“Six or eight months later, one of my good friends from college who's a co-founder with me, Chris Clark, — he had been working pharma his whole career and had moved his family back to DFW — I said, ‘Let's start a company, man.’”
They talked about it over whiskey and quickly identified the need for a third founder.
Enter Dr. Alan Dennington. “[He] is someone that I grew up with. I did Boy Scouts with him in church and our families were friends. We all knew each other from Abilene Christian. He was an ER doc and started an urgent care. So, he made sense when we asked him and he said ‘yes.’ He's very entrepreneurial, and of course, doing business with someone you trust is incredibly important. I knew his work ethic was incredible,” Luke said.
Raising capital was new to Luke. He said he watched every YouTube video he could find on the topic. He also bought books about creating your investor deck. And he immediately called Abilene Christian alumni.
Before long, they found themselves sitting in front of a $10 million valuation on a company that didn't have a customer. “We just had a business plan,” he said.
“We got our first customer within two weeks of closing on the initial million dollars that we raised in seed capital,” Luke said. “All of my seed capital came from Abilene Christian alumni. So whatever networks you have, whether it be, who you know from college or you know, some church or whatever, [use them.]
Luke spoke highly of his role model. “Her name is April Anthony. She is the CEO of Encompass Health in DFW, and you know the reason that she is … she's been extremely successful from a business perspective and just sold her company to HealthSouth for $750 million and is still running it as the CEO. More importantly, if you walk into the business and talk to any person about April and her leadership, the things you'll hear will knock your socks off. [At] any level in the organization, [you know she] has invested in her people and provided opportunities from a growth perspective personally for them.”
Luke makes a point of eating healthy, exercising regularly, spending time in prayer and spending time with family. These inputs have definitely proved to lead to successful outputs.
We wish him and TimelyMD the best of luck in all their endeavors.
If you want to learn more about Luke, read this recent press release about TimelyMD’s $60M capital raise. Want to get a chance for Q&A with Luke? Register for his TechNest webinar, which will be held April 6.