Interview With PITCH NYC 2012 Speaker Cheryl Swirnow Of Brooklyn-Based Health Startup Sherpaa

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Tips from the venture-funded startup founder, told to Kate Kendall. By Kate Kendall (Founder & CEO, The Fetch)

In anticipation of PITCH NYC 2012 Conference tomorrow, I chat with speaker Cheryl Swirnow about her Brooklyn-based healthtech startup Sherpaa, a venture funded-company that facilitates email- and phone-based personalized medical advice and access to doctors (or Guides as they call them), meaning patients no longer have to make a trip into the office.

Investors in Sherpaa include AlphaTech Ventures, First Round Capital and Collaborative Fund. Sherpaa lists fellow NY-startups like tumblr and Skillshare as cients.

I talk to Cheryl, the co-founder and COO and previously the head of HR at The Barbarian Group, before the PITCH Conference:

Kate Kendall: Why do you think a service like Sherpaa hasn't existed in the market before? Cheryl Swirnow: I think the healthcare space is really complicated. What we are trying to do is bridge the gap between accessibility and affordability for health. It's not necessarily a new concept, but we are certainly doing it in a new and innovative way.

KK: How important is domain expertise (your 10-year plus background in this case) for getting a healthtech startup off the ground? CS: Very. People take their health as well as their businesses very seriously, so it's important that they feel that we have the expertise in this field in order for them to trust us. Our entire company hangs on people trusting us.

KK: Has your team been creating any software in-house or is your focus on innovating with the service and delivery model? CS: A little of both. We have started by doing some development around how our doctors use our service so it's as easy for them as possible. We will continue to develop ways to make our service super easy for our clients to use, too. But yes, we are very much focused on the service model. We truly believe that the health experience should be wonderful. We want to be the curators of that experience for our clients.

KK: Can doctors treat people accurately and effectively from a distance? CS: Care via email or phone is absolutely safe and effective. Over 70% of primary care visits get referred to specialists, and nearly the same percentage of ER visits are not true emergencies. We are simply cutting out the waste, and doing so in a more forward thinking way.

KK: What do you like about being based in Brooklyn and the NY startup community? CS: The startup community, and specifically the NY startup community is so wonderful. Everyone is open to helping and giving feedback. It's not competitive, and there's very little ego. It's great to see so many different people and companies trying to solve real problems.

KK: What are your top tips for conveying trust and authenticity in your product design? CS: Be yourself and have a voice. People are smart, and they do their research and can see through dishonesty or inauthentic service/design.

I think specificity is key. We use real examples with real numbers and that is the best way to prove out your concept.

KK: You recently raised $1.8M from incredible investors, what advice do you have for female founders at the seed round stage? CS: I never once thought about the fact that I was a female when we were going to raise money. Regardless of your sex or age or background, you need to believe in yourself and your service or product. I have found that investors are looking to invest in people just as much as they are investing in businesses. In the same sense that potential clients can tell when someone is being inauthentic (as I mentioned above), investors can do. It's important to just be yourself, and believe in both who you are and what you created.

Women 2.0 readers: Who are the health tech entrepreneurs out there? Let us know who you are and what you're working on in the comments.

About the guest blogger: Kate Kendall is the Founder and CEO of The Fetch, a platform that helps professionals discover and share what’s happening in their city. Launched in mid-2011 as a go-to biweekly email digest, The Fetch is now in eight cities around the globe and growing. Before this, Kate led product and digital at magazine companies, handled outreach for new startups and organized many communities and events. Follow her on Twitter at @katekendall.