Listen more. There are so many smart people in this world who can help you generate new ideas, solve problems, see possibilities.
Jill Shah is the Founder and CEO of Jill’s List – an online marketplace for Complementary, Alternative and Integrative Healthcare. Doctors and patients use Jill’s List to refer patients to Integrative Health practitioners and companies subscribe their employees to a “premium” Jill’s List membership which helps employees find, compare and review great practitioners and learn how to pay for “alternative medicine” services which are not covered by their health insurance by using pre-tax dollars from their Flex-spending and Health Savings Accounts. The premium version of Jill’s List also allows members to save receipts for easy submission to the FSA or HSA administrator and track spending so that the allocate the right budget each year.
Prior to Jill’s List, Jill was Senior Vice President, Business and Corporate Development for Mercator Software, a publicly-traded software company which she helped turn-around and sell to Ascential Software. She moved to Mercator from Monitor Group’s investment banking practice, MAST, where she served as a Vice President, and before that was part of an entrepreneurial team that helped to build the marketing and internet solutions company, Larry Miller Productions, which was then sold to iXL and taken public.
Jill Shah also helped to create the Design Salon to help Women Design Entrepreneurs in Boston network and grow their businesses and she serves on the Board of Trustees of the Kingsley Montessori School, the Board of Overseers at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and the Board of Advisors for the Cheng Tsui Center for Integrative Medicine.
What are you working on right now?
We are launching our new premium product for self-insured companies. Companies purchase a subscription to Jill’s List which gives all employees all of the standard Jill’s List functionality (find a practitioner, review a practitioner, engagement rewards program) plus a monthly coupons and special offers newsletter and education modules which help to encourage use of FSA and HSA plans. Companies don’t pay taxes on dollars placed into these accounts so it not only saves the company money, but also potentially helps to lower insurance claims.
Where did the idea for Jill’s List come from?
I had a complicated delivery when my son was born which lead me – through a friend – to a acupuncturist who prescribed some chinese herbs. The herbs were so helpful and I was amazed at how quickly I recovered after I began to take them (this was after a few months of really suffering.) As an entrepreneur I was surprised at how complicated it was to find a good acupuncturist. When I would search on the web for one I would come upon websites with “flying buddhas” or “waterfall noises” – nothing that represented the very “medical” and “clinical” and effective experience that I had had with my acupuncturist. I realized that this was true for most healthcare which was considered Complementary or Alternative and so I decided it made sense to launch something that would help consumers and doctors find and refer to good, credentialed practitioners.
What does your typical day look like?
I have two amazing children who go to school around the corner from my office. I love to drop them off and then head into work, so I start the day around 5:30am with a work-out at 5:45 and I am showered and out the door with the kids by 7:45. The walk to school is a fantastic time to chat and to check in with both of the kids and share stories and then, after drop-off, I’m in the office, catching up with our team, checking emails, checking the news and then off to meetings!
How do you bring ideas to life?
Around here we have a fairly stealth process. There are lots of ideas – all the time – from customers, members, friends and colleagues. We try to vet the ones that seem to make sense for Jill’s List and then we look for the quick path to delivery so that we can test and tweak as we implement. We are always testing the idea and listening to feedback from potential end users. And then, once something is in the market we refine, refine, refine.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The increase in adoption and utilization of Flex-spending and Health Savings Accounts (FSAs and HSAs.) I like that the give the consumer choice in healthcare and that consumers and employers are becoming more savvy about how to use them – and encourage use of them. I really think that used correctly, the increased usage of these products could help make America healthier and reduce overall healthcare costs.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I took a job at a local fast food chain during a holiday break one year and worked the late night/closing shift. It paid pretty well, but the work was monotonous and the food and smells were horrible. I worked with folks who lived paycheck to paycheck and really struggled to make ends meet. Their stories were so tough and so real. As a 18 or 19 year old, it was an eye opener and it made me appreciate that much more everything I had and the opportunities I imagined were yet to come.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Listen more. There are so many smart people in this world who can help you generate new ideas, solve problems, see possibilities. It’s hard to hear them when you are talking or making assumptions or debating. I’d definitely listen more, ask more questions, and then listen again.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Pursue things that you are passionate about. It’s hard to sell something you don’t believe in, but it is amazing and fulfilling to work everyday on something you believe in!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Entrepreneurism – and sales for that matter – are about a string of successes and failures. You hope that the successes outweigh the failures because, in those, you find the product, the revenue stream, the investable business. I was a pretty serious athlete when I was younger and so I love the thrill of the chase and the pursuit of the win, but I also am very familiar with failure…the hire that you aren’t able to get, the deal you aren’t able to close, the money you don’t get. It makes the wins all the better, in my opinion. Learning is how I overcome any failure. I dissect it – why didn’t the deal close? What assumptions did I make that were incorrect? Am I giving them what they want? If you let the answers to these questions guide then you begin to see a pathway to success.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Provide an upbeat, courteous and low-cost outsourced staffing solution for front-offices at all medical centers, clinics and hospitals. Doctors, other providers and medical personnel are generally not great business people and so they tend to have a hard time hiring, training and managing front office staff, who in turn provide a terrible “face” to the office and to the brand. Creating a solution for the problem – I think – could be a big opportunity.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Oh, man, that’s a GREAT question. I would make sure that everyone in the world had clean drinking water – as much as they needed – every day.
Tell us a secret.
The amazing Jack Welch just found out about Jill’s List and we hear that he is going to write a review about his favorite practitioner. We’re over the moon that he likes what we are doing!
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
I’m a closet interior designer and so I adore Pinterest.
I order everything for my home from Wayfair.com.
I can’t believe how much office functionality Google offers for free and we use it all – religiously!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers. It’s a terrific look at how people and cultures react to innovation and a great reminder that nothing ever is as it seems – at least not for very long.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
- @lindastone – she’s excellent at parsing interesting and entertaining trends and data.
- @101Cookbooks – yum!
- @johndoerr – interesting to the entrepreneur, the investor, the consumer, the curious American.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
When my dear little daughter – who is 5 going on 16 – referred to the ruffles on her skirt as fluffles! (A much better word, in my opinion.)
Who is your hero?
My dad will always be my hero. He made it to every soccer game, every track meet, every basketball game and always sat on the other side of field – away from the rowdy parents. He pushed me to be the best I could be, and the happiest. He gives the most reflective advice, and continues to live his life with kind consideration of others and a true honesty for who he is and in that which he believes. He has volunteered an amazing amount of time in his life to make schools, side walks, bike paths, and communities better places. He’s super smart, well-read, an excellent debater and says things like, “When you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.” I’m honored when people tell me that I’m just like him.
How do you define success?
Success is a team coming together and gelling on a solution that works, can be sold, can be built upon, that they are proud of and that people flock to, comment on, are curious about, or want more of. Success is growth, energy, passion, and compelling momentum that leads to the next success.
What is the most important piece of advice that you will pass on to your kids?
Do what you do because it makes you happy. Happiness is the most important thing. Whatever it is that makes you happy, makes you smile, fuels you with energy, passion, enthusiasm – do that and you will be fulfilled. If you aren’t doing that then pause and work towards finding that thing and use your friends, family and mentors to help you find it or define it. It will be time incredibly well spent.