Creating Massive Impact: Iman Abuzeid of Incredible Health
How She Grew Incredible Health Into A $1.65B Industry-Changing Company
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Dr. Iman Abuzeid is a force.
And I mean that in the best possible way.
Her company, Incredible Health, reached unicorn status in 2022, being valued at $1.65B after raising an $80M Series B round of funding.
As of this year, 1 in 4 nurses in the United States are using her platform, which helps more than 700 hospitals hire permanent nurses in less than 20 days, a 4x improvement over the 82-day national average.
Of course, it’s been a journey for Iman to get to this point.
Not only going through a big pivot early on but overcoming the appalling fact that 1% of venture capital funding goes to black founders with just a fraction of that going to black women.
But as I mentioned, Iman is a force, and you’re about to learn why.
After interviewing her in 2020 and seeing her continued progress since, I’m so excited to share her story with you.
Let’s get to it.
In a similar vein as Ryan Petersen, who I featured last week, and Ooshma Garg, who I wrote about the week before, Iman’s family had a deep impact on her path in life.
She was born in Saudi Arabia to Sudanese parents, her father was a surgeon, and both of her older brothers would also follow that same path.
Eid mubarak! 🌙✨💫 My 4 siblings and I in Feb 2020. My older bros are surgeons and go back to the operating rooms next week, praying they stay safe 🤲🏿 https://t.co/Ze1jBJUBu9
— Iman Abuzeid MD (@ImanAbuzeid)
May 24, 2020
But not Iman.
While she did start down a similar path, getting her medical degree in the U.K., her journey would be influenced by her two grandfathers, both of whom were entrepreneurs.
As Iman would recall, “It made me very comfortable with risk.”
While it would be some time before she ventured out to start her own company, she did decide that becoming a doctor wasn’t for her.
Instead, she wanted to find ways to create a bigger impact:
I realized how much more of an impact you can have if you operate at a system-level. I wanted to have an impact on a macro scale. There are so many things — access, operations, and more — that if improved, can make a huge impact in health care.
In 2009, Iman moved to the U.S., a decision that would prove to be a game-changer for her:
Moving to the U.S. in 2009 was the biggest inflection point in my life because this country views entrepreneurs so positively and there’s an entire ecosystems to support those entrepreneurs. There’s something about the American culture and its system that makes it the best place in the world to start a company.
She took a job in health care consulting, working for two years at Booz & Company before deciding to get back to school, getting an MBA at Wharton.
Much like Ryan Petersen found tremendous value in his MBA, Iman lauded it:
Did I get that ROI on that two-year degree and $200,000 invested? Yea, absolutely I did, massively actually.
Her summer during her MBA was spent at Mckinsey & Company, developing an oncology drug launch plan, and, while she obtained a full-time offer from McKinsey, she decided to join a digital healthcare startup, AliveCor.
This decision would prove to be fortuitous, leading to the start of her first company.
At AliveCor, Iman would meet her Incredible Health co-founder and CTO, Rome Portlock. Rome was one of the first engineering hires at AliveCor and, after working together with Iman for two years, they were ready to start a company together.
But they didn’t start Incredible Health just yet.
In 2015, they began working on Lift League, a company that provided software for small and medium healthcare companies to help them improve client results and retain customers.
Despite their best efforts, they struggled to grow it.
While in an accelerator run by NFX, they pivoted, going through a robust ideation process to figure out another path forward.
In an interview with Harry Stebbings on the 20VC Podcast, Iman would describe how they came up with 100 different ideas, applying filters like market size, competition, unique insights, and 10x better potential to narrow those down to the 10 best.
From there, after in-depth customer and market research, they ended up finding a winner - Incredible Health.
Getting Incredible Health Off The Ground
Iman and Rome. Photo credit: Incredible Health
After raising a couple hundred thousand dollars from friends and family, of which 3-4 were classmates of Iman’s from Wharton, she would go on to raise a $2.3M seed round of funding led by Obvious Ventures in July 2017.
This round took 2-3 months to raise and was important for a number of reasons, but one, in particular, being that James Joaquin, co-founder of Obvious Ventures, made her write down her values prior to him wiring her the money.
She found this helpful and described to me in our interview back in 2020 how they end up becoming the operating system of a company, a quote which I included in Iman’s Wisdom at the end of this post.
Remember I mentioned just how little venture funding goes to women and minorities?
Iman has some advice about raising venture capital for others in her shoes:
We know that the odds are stacked against us statistically and there is a ton of bias in the system. But the interesting thing is that when you are raising, as a minority or a woman, one of the key things I did and I often recommend to other CEOs is you just have to ignore that. You have to ignore the statistics and the data and the bias and all of that because that’s not what’s going to get the round done.
What’s going to get the round done is your assertiveness, your ability to clearly communicate a vision, a market, a product, your traction, and so on. And you really just have to ignore that because that can really just mess you up psychologically to even think about it.
Iman had a meticulous approach to fundraising, something I’ll go into more in-depth in a moment, and she was attacking a problem with a clear need - a shortage of 1 million nurses by 2024.
The way hospitals hire hadn’t changed much since the early 1990s, they weren’t using the latest software to help them, and it would take months for them to hire nurses and other staff.
This was an opportunity for Iman and Incredible Health.
The winning idea Iman and Rome thought of during the NFX accelerator, an idea also vetted by a number of Rome’s family members who were nurses, was a recruiting platform for nurses.
Prior to announcing their seed round of funding, they would get their first hospital on the platform, HCA Healthcare, and other hospitals through cold calling.
The value prop for hospitals was simple - hire permanent nurses in less than 30 days guaranteed.
And, instead of nurses applying to hospitals, Incredible Health would flip this process on its head, having hospitals apply to nurses. The nurses would be screened beforehand and Iman and her team would build a custom matching algorithm to find the right nurses for each hospital.
But wait, how did they get the first nurses on the platform?
Google and Facebook ads.
As you’ll soon learn though, Iman had some unique ways of attracting nurses to the platform, leading to tens of thousands of them signing up.
The Dream Team
Building on early success with Incredible Health, Iman was able to propel them to the next level with their $15M Series A in September 2019.
There is a great story in Forbes that tells of the hustle:
Iman Abuzeid walked into the Andreessen Horowitz annual barbecue in the summer of 2019 with two term sheets from other VC firms already in hand, but she was determined to leave with a third. The cofounder and CEO of Incredible Health was sure she wanted a16z managing partner Jeff Jordan, the former CEO of online restaurant reservation marketplace OpenTable and senior vice president at eBay, to help grow her nurse-hiring startup.
What she didn’t realize is that she would not only land a key investor that night but also one of her company’s marquee customers. Amid the endless trays of hamburgers and ribs at the home of Ben and Felicia Horowitz, Abuzeid, 36, walked past Tina Knowles (Beyoncé’s mom) and CBS anchor Gayle King, and honed in on Bernard Tyson, the late CEO of Kaiser Permanente. Abuzeid says she started the conversation with Tyson the same way she does with all hospital executives she’s pitching. “We’re in a huge nursing shortage,” she tells them. “I’m guessing your units are understaffed, and they don’t have enough nurses?”
She got Kaiser Permanente and its 39 hospitals on board.
Just as important, she landed her ideal investors in her Series A, which ended up being led by Andreessen Horowitz, but also including Precursor Ventures, NFX, Obvious Ventures, and Gingerbread Capital, not to mention a few angel investors as well.
tfw you have to crop the photo to fit @andre iguodala 😎. Thanks for visiting @JoinIncredible, Andre! @jeff_jordan @a16z @jamesjoaquin @obviousvc https://t.co/uc0xVWjFCh
— Iman Abuzeid MD (@ImanAbuzeid)
Oct 1, 2019
After spending 2-3 months to close her seed round, it ended up taking her about 4-5 weeks to close her Series A.
Reflecting on the investment and why Iman was the right person to build Incredible Health, here’s what Jeff Jordan had to say about her:
Iman has seen the healthcare industry from every angle possible. She was raised in a family of doctors; when friends and family complained about the difficulties in working with travel nurses and the frustration of finding a new job in the healthcare space, she knew there had to be a better way. Her training to be a doctor showed her the issues from the practitioner’s side; her experience as a healthcare consultant gave her the hospital and provider POV; managing product at a mobile health start-up gave her valuable product and consumer insight.
Clearly, the company was doing well, but she also was meticulous about the fundraising process.
In the interview I did with her in 2020, she gave some great advice about fundraising, with a few key pieces including:
Be more ambitious
Have a strong story and vision for where you’re headed in the next 10 years
Clearly articulate how you’ll transform your industry
Have a robust process with a clear target list of investors
Start with tier 3 meetings, then tier 2, and finally tier 1
She also made a point to mention that you have to first find the financing strategy that makes sense for you - it won’t always be to raise venture capital.
In her fundraising process, Iman also did reference checks with CEOs on potential investors to find out how they supported founders even when they weren’t doing well and to find out what kind of value they offered to them outside of capital.
Some of the questions she’d ask CEOs about their investors:
What are the top 3 things they did for you?
When things were not going well, how did they react and what did they do for you?
Would you take money from this person again?
On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend this investor?
Iman had previously experienced what happens when you don’t have the right investors and wanted to make sure she did her homework for Incredible Health.
She also constantly iterated while fundraising and recommends other founders do the same:
After every single meeting there has to be an improvement to your pitch. Whether it’s changing an additional slide you need to create or there are questions that keep coming up over and over again that you need to clarify and explain better. You should really treat it like a learning process - just like your product, there has to be an intense amount of iteration that happens while you’re fundraising as well.
Of course, even though Iman had some of the best VCs in the world invest, she still had others pass on her.
And guess what?
She’d still find ways to get value from those conversations, asking investors what they thought about competitors, and the market overall, and treating meetings where she could feel investors weren’t on board as a way to get a free consulting session to learn.
Throughout the entire fundraising process, she also found ways to stay motivated:
3/ Stay motivated. My hack was watching @Beyonce Homecoming documentary on @netflix… was watching that 3X per week while raising. She works very hard, achieved excellence... it was inspiring to me. She says "If I can do it, you can do it too". Get a psych hack to stay positive.
— Iman Abuzeid MD (@ImanAbuzeid)
Feb 16, 2020
At this time in her journey, Incredible Health is focused on California, has more than 150 hospitals signed up, and thousands of nurses on the platform.
They’re making hiring way more efficient by personalizing the experience for hospitals:
We work with each hospital individually to understand their key needs so we can customize their algorithms, enabling personalized matches that don’t waste the recruiter’s time. We also find out the nurse’s preferences through automated methods.
Instead of hospitals reviewing 500 applications for a position, they can look at just 20 and apply to them - a much different experience. Remember, hospitals apply to nurses on Incredible Health.
It’s different for the nurses too.
Instead of nurses completing a 45-minute application for every employer, they complete their Incredible Health profile in 5 minutes and have hospitals apply to them.
And this only gets better in time:
Our system gets more effective the more who use it. The first [effect] is a traditional marketplace network effect: More nurses has attracted more hospitals, and more hospitals has attracted more nurses. And then, there’s the data network effect: The more each side uses it, the ‘smarter’ our algorithms get, too.
Their platform also helps to minimize bias:
Because potential employees are assessed on their skills, experience and certifications, the technology weeds out biases typically found in processes which are largely human-powered.
2019 was a huge year for Iman and Incredible Health and it set the stage for an even bigger opportunity to make an impact in 2020 when the global pandemic hit.
By 2020, Incredible Health is a team of 30 and growing fast.
Many early hires came through their network or were highly recommended and Iman mentioned that she tries to look for people with an insane amount of self-motivation.
At this time, with Iman’s vision for Incredible Health being to help healthcare professionals live better lives, COVID is putting a strain on that.
So they build a couple of tools to help nurses out.
First, they announce a platform offering free continuing education for nurses. This was something they were working on previously but accelerated its development because of COVID.
Second, they announce a free nurse salary estimator, because, as they mention in the announcement, “Over 80% of nurses nationally report being uncertain about whether they are sufficiently compensated or not.“
Not only were these tools useful for nurses, but they also attracted tens of thousands of nurses to the platform and would prove to be a key piece of their long-term product strategy.
By this point, Incredible Health is saving hospitals $2M per year in travel nurse and HR-related costs.
How are they growing this side of the platform?
Iman mentioned that the process closely resembles enterprise sales and marketing.
Okay, she now has multiple methods in place for growing both sides of her marketplace and in 2020 Incredible Health ends up doing around $5M in revenue.
Where do they go from here?
In 2021, Incredible Health had a reported 500% increase in revenue and 10,000+ nurses joining their marketplace weekly.
They also were on track to do around $16M in revenue that year and they, unlike many startups, are profitable, with hundreds of thousands of nurses on the platform and 500 hospitals signed up.
They’re in 21 states by this point and in a Forbes article, Iman describes her ambitions:
Nurses are just a starting point, Abuzeid explains, with the long-term goal to be the “market leading company in healthcare labor.” The company is looking to expand to customers beyond hospitals in the future to urgent care, surgical centers, skilled nursing facilities and home health. Abuzeid expects the company might eventually serve doctors, physical therapists and pharmacists.
Nurses are the wedge, with the vision being much larger.
Well, in 2022, that vision would get one step closer to reality.
In August 2022, Incredible Health announced their $80M series B, led by Base10 Partners, with Andreessen Horowitz and Obvious Ventures returning.
According to the TechCrunch announcement, they also had Workday CEO Chano Fernando, NBA Champion Andre Iguodala, Rethink Impact, Stardust Equity, and Charli and Dixie D’Amelio (444 Capital Fund) join the round.
They have nurses in 25 states at this point, a team of 145 people, 400,000 nurses on their platform, and they launch a suite of products specifically for new nurse graduates.
A theme I see throughout my research is just how customer-centric Iman and her team are and it shows with this initiative, serving a group of nurses of which 65% feel burnt out within 6 months and who can get access to a personalized advice platform to message more experienced nurses.
This customer-centric approach pays dividends and by January 2023, Incredible Health reaches an amazing milestone - 1 in 4 nurses in the United States are using their platform and 75% of the best hospitals use their platform:
Taking Care of Her Own Health
With Incredible Health’s focus on nurses, I couldn’t help but ask Iman about her own health.
As she mentioned to me in our podcast episode, the number one job of a CEO is to manage their own psychology.
How does Iman do it?
She has a therapist who she said has been really helpful
She has a support group of other founders which is great for realizing you’re not alone
At the time I talked with her back in 2020, she also said that she recharges by setting clear boundaries, not working on Saturdays, and making sure she gets 7-8 hours of sleep, highlighting the rapid decline of cognitive function when you get less than that.
Whatever she’s doing seems to be working and Incredible Health is making the massive impact she wanted so badly.
In each edition of the Just Go Grind newsletter, I like to include a few more quotes at the end from my research into the founder who is featured, sharing their wisdom.
I learned very quickly that traction isn’t what gets deals done. What gets deals done is an amazing story, with a huge vision, with a huge market that you’re pursuing, and a very unique insight about how you’re going to pursue it.
On others becoming entrepreneurs:
Obviously I’m heavily biased here, but an opinion I have is the epitome of what you can do with your business career is to start a company. And that’s not a fact, that’s an opinion. The excitement, the learning, the skill development that comes from entrepreneurship is dramatic. Now of course with that comes an intense amount of resilience that’s needed and you gotta manage your mental health pretty carefully as well, but it’s the quickest way to learn as much as possible.
On company values:
The values end up becoming the operating system of the company. They’re how we work together. Some of the values, like you mentioned speed earlier, that’s one of our values - operate as quickly as humanly possible, because that’s the only competitive advantage you have as a startup usually.
Thanks for reading! Let me know on Twitter or reply to this email with what you thought about this edition of Just Go Grind. If you found this valuable, please consider subscribing and sharing it with a friend 😊
And if you enjoyed this profile, take a look at the first five:
Sam Altman of OpenAI
Melanie Perkins of Canva
Tope Awotona of Calendly
Ooshma Garg of Gobble
Ryan Petersen of Flexport
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