Char Hu, PhD, completed his doctorate at Baylor College of Medicine and translated his biomedical research experience into Alzheimer’s and dementia care. As a founder and director of Georgetown Living, a certified dementia community, he is actively involved in supporting the needs of Central Texas’ older adult community. Today, Char brings his passion and industry experience to his mission of transforming in-home older adult care. When not tending to his hive as CEO at The Helper Bees, Char spends his free time working with local nonprofits focused on issues related to aging, and serving on the boards of directors at AustinUp, Alzheimer’s Texas, and Family Eldercare.
Where did the idea for The Helper Bees come from?
I started my career as a research scientist (my doctorate is in molecular biophysics). While I was completing my thesis using supercomputers to study protein folding, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This was the impetus for me to leave academic research and found a Medicare home health agency, as well as Alzheimer’s and dementia facilities, in my late twenties. Founding companies in long-term care services helped me realize that the current home care model was incapable of meeting the demands of the millions of Americans who would need it. It was common to see a poor customer experience in the way that care is delivered, and an overcomplicated interaction with the payer source. That’s why we founded The Helper Bees.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I hang out with my daughter first thing in the morning, then I do a workout in the garage (more about that below). Then it’s meetings solid for the entire day. I close the day with a wrap-up call with my other founders, then have dinner with the family at 7pm. I pick work back up at around 8:30 and work till midnight. This is when I get my most creative thinking done.
How do you bring ideas to life?
A beer/scotch + doodling in a notebook. When trying to formulate solutions and ideas, I try to open up my mind as much as possible, so that no area of possible innovation is left uncovered. Once I get a general structure around my idea, I book a call with the other founders of The Helper Bees to have them simultaneously tear into my idea while adding more meat onto the bone.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The increasing pace of adoption of new technologies and services among insurance carriers. Large, slow-moving enterprises have moved faster towards their escape velocity for innovation. This means that the cycle of innovation will finally take hold, even in late adopters.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
A regimented system of notebooks. So much information gets thrown at me on a minute-by-minute basis that I have to have a system to keep track of everything. I have a pocket notebook that I always carry for to-do lists and things that need attention right away. Then a hard cover notebook where I put all my meeting notes and brainstorming. This allows my brain not to spend any decision juice on retaining any short-term information. I keep all of these previous notebooks and refer back to them frequently.
What advice would you give your younger self?
That all the weird experiences and hobbies that you’re collecting are more influential than you think. They are molding you for success later on. So keep at it
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
As an early-stage company, significant revenue growth is not the panacea for being able to raise money. I talk to lots of early-stage founders like myself who are convinced if they just have a bit more revenue, then they’ll be able to raise. I point them to our experience. We had fantastic revenue growth for years and I still had an incredibly difficult time raising.
When fundraising, you have to understand that investors will move the goalposts on you constantly. So, you have to anchor the conversation around the metrics that you believe tells the story of your company.
Once you are sure of your metrics, wrap your pitch around them so that you direct the conversation on your terms. Often, for early-stage startups, the pitch is about something other than revenue. It’s not feasible to simply flip a switch and be able to talk about meaningful revenue. If an investor is picking apart your revenue numbers, it means your pitch hasn’t brought them along your journey, so they ended up on the island they’re most familiar with – concerned about revenue traction.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Workout 4-5x/week with something that is so physically challenging that it morphs into a mental workout. This helps me to survive the gauntlet that is my day. I program my workouts so that there is always one supremely challenging movement or transition, where the inner voice is telling me to quit and nobody will know if I do. This gives me the muscle memory and energy to tackle the challenges in front of me while building a company.
Being an entrepreneur is rough. We willingly go into the day defending our company from things that are constantly trying to kill it. It takes a huge emotional toll that we can’t get enough of. So, seeing myself physically survive obstacles in my workout, where others would have quit, gives me confidence to do what is necessary to build a company.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
After experiencing firsthand the difficulties of the existing long-term care system on consumers, caregivers and insurers, we designed the business to be built and iterated on best serving the needs of all involved. We take care to really understand each type of customer through personal and professional engagements, find great partners and grow with them. We continually adapt the product based on the feedback they give us. It’s helped us innovate an enterprise-grade product that is used with consumer-grade ease, and truly disrupt some areas of the industry that really needed it
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I didn’t realize that I needed help on my pitch early enough in my fundraising process. I thought since I had been pitching my company for four years, and had some success, that I knew what I was doing. But, my pride didn’t realize that our company had changed over the four years, and the way I presented our identity had not evolved. I burned a lot of potentially worthwhile meetings and a lot of time on a pitch that didn’t accurately convey our mission. Once I sought help, I was able to tighten the pitch, and I started to see it land much harder.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Intuitive workflow software for caregivers in facilities. One with a UI that helps to encourage person-centered care while improving the onboarding time of a new caregiver.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Hands down: Wild Water’s 5/6 wt. fly rod, reel and accessories. This little set-up has everything you need for fly fishing, including tools, leader, flybox, rod and reel all for less than $100. I’m prone to snapping multi-fly rods on trips and have now taken to using this as my go-to. It outperforms my rods that are 6x more expensive plus the customer service is amazing.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Keynote + iCloud. We build a ton of decks and the ability to collaborate across the team, in real-time, dramatically collapses the time to delivery. The frictionless collaboration also allows us to use our energy to build a more creative product.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It’s truly eye-opening in how it reveals how humans process information and transform these into actions. It’s wildly helpful for me in thinking through marketing messaging, but also has helped me become a better manager.
What is your favorite quote?
It’s not my all-time favorite, and is not my typical style, but this quote by an unknown author motivated me through the start of the pandemic, when our company was hitting insane growth: “The Devil whispered in my ear, ‘You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.’ Today, I whispered in the Devil’s ear, ‘I am the storm.’”
- Always take notes. Even on seemingly trivial conversations (like conversations with tech support). At worst, you wasted some ink. But most times, you’ll find yourself going back to the majority of your notes at least once. In a weird way, it’s my version of Pascal’s wager.
- Find a physically exhausting workout that is safe for you to do, and do it frequently. By pushing yourself physically, you begin to truly understand your own personal limits, and what it takes to break through those.
- Seek help often. If you find yourself shying away from receiving feedback on something you’re working on, it’s probably an indicator that it’s time to seek counsel.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.