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.
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 🤲🏿
— 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:
In 2009, Iman moved to the U.S., a decision that would prove to be a game-changer for her:
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.
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:
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:
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
— 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:
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:
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:
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:
Their platform also helps to minimize bias:
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 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.
On others becoming entrepreneurs:
On company values:
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