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Interview with Jessica Nouhavandi, Co-Founder of Honeybee Health

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Interview with Jessica Nouhavandi, Co-Founder of Honeybee Health

Dr. Nouhavandi combines ethics, patient care and passion to create the ultimate patient experience. After earning her bachelor’s degree in bioethics and becoming a Doctor in Pharmacy from Western University of Health Sciences in 2011, she worked as a pharmacist in charge of MCP pharmacy, an independent compounding pharmacy located in Moorpark, California. As the only independent pharmacy in a town surrounded by big chain pharmacies, Dr. Nouhavandi helped grow the business to be the second highest volume pharmacy in Moorpark as a result of its hardworking staff, impeccable service and commitment to the community. After the successful acquisition of MCP Pharmacy in 2017 by CVS, Dr. Nouhavandi helped create Honeybee Health with the idea of bringing the same hometown service and dedication to the whole nation. Honeybee Health brings transparency to any prescription, not what an insurance company or pharmaceutical manufacturer decides. Honeybee Health’s search provides truth to the process of shopping for medications by showing the actual cost of any generic medicine based on form, strength and package size, which can be directly purchased. Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi is successfully leading the charge for transparent drug pricing through Honeybee Health.

Where did the idea for Honeybee Health come from?

Jessica Nouhavandi: I’m the only daughter of Jewish, Iranian immigrants and the first in my family to go to college. I became a pharmacist for one simple reason: I wanted to help people.

After obtaining my Doctorate in Pharmacy, I ran an independent retail pharmacy with my co-founder of Honeybee Health, Peter Wang. We saw very quickly that patients were regularly walking away from the counter because they couldn’t afford their co-pays. We experienced this on a personal level as well. Peter watched his sister struggle for a long time to afford her mental health medications because of an insurance coverage gap. At one point when she couldn’t get her medication she wandered away for several days and ended up in the hospital. These are scarring experiences and all too common in our healthcare system.

So, Peter and I set out to do something entirely different and created Honeybee Health, a HIPAA-accredited online pharmacy that carries more than 6,000 different generic drugs and provides the most affordable generic medications to the un- or underinsured. The fair prices are possible because we purchase medication directly from wholesale distributors and pass the savings on to our patients. Working outside the traditional confines of health insurance means Honeybee Health can find the lowest prices for every drug and then sell directly to consumers. This eliminates the multiple layers of companies, pharmacy benefit managers, and others that significantly inflate prices to produce their individual profits.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Jessica Nouhavandi: Because I’m the founder and CEO of a fast-growing pharmacy start-up, my days are very busy. I’m the lead pharmacist, so I also guide our team of pharmacists. Every day is a balance of pharmacy duties in addition to work related to business development and investors. I also make sure to spend some of my time working on larger, structural changes to the industry because at our core, Honeybee Health’s mission isn’t just to deliver a better pharmacy experience—it is to completely reshape American healthcare by putting patients first.

Because I juggle so many different roles, an essential productivity tool for me is my schedule. Beyond meetings, interviews, and so on, I use my schedule to block out exactly when I will work on specific tasks. I then review my schedule every night for the next day in order to be prepared. I’ve found being this level of detail with my schedule is a life-saver when it comes to staying organized and productive.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Jessica Nouhavandi: In my experience, the people you work with are the most important factor in bringing an idea to light. It is essential to both brainstorm and execute ideas using a team of creative dedicated employees who are all passionate about the company’s mission.

As far as bringing the company’s values to life, this is where branding plays a huge role as well. At Honeybee Health, we are committed to giving patients the best pharmacy experience possible. We bring that commitment to life in everything from handwritten notes to patients in their orders to ensuring consistently low prices on medications. On an internal level, we live and breathe Honeybee Health and keep our team close together with details like bee-pun slack channels and bi-monthly team lunches.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Jessica Nouhavandi: I’m very excited about the rising number of female entrepreneurs, tech leaders, venture capitalists, and investors. As a woman in the male-dominated industries of healthcare, business, and tech, I’ve experienced my fair share of both overt and covert sexism. That has included everything from investors asking me if I’m planning on having kids to assuming I wouldn’t understand the financial side of the business. This is why it’s so important for there to be more women entering these fields.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Jessica Nouhavandi: I make sure I always stay connected to the root of my mission at Honeybee Health: my patients. By staying close to them—through counsel sessions, checking in on patients, reading testimonials and reviews, and so on—I am inspired to keep fighting hard for Honeybee Health’s success.

One particular patient’s story always stands out to me. His name is Ehab, and for a long time, his life was going well: he owned a successful construction company in Chicago, a home, and had two sons in the Marines. Then, in 2016, both of his sons were killed within months of each other. He lost everything—his house, his business, and his wife. He ended up living on the streets of Austin, TX, and struggled to get his medications. Then, about six months ago his doctor recommended Honeybee Health. He says we “saved his life.”

What advice would you give your younger self?

Jessica Nouhavandi: I’d tell my younger self not to take failure so hard. Instead, I’d tell her to see moments of failure as opportunities for growth. For example, when I worked as a retail pharmacist, I constantly had patients leaving the counter without their medications because they couldn’t afford their copays. I took this as a personal failure because my job as a pharmacist is to help these patients.

Now, looking back years later, I can see that it was an essential part of my journey that led me to explore unorthodox pharmacy careers. I wouldn’t have created Honeybee Health, a radically different pharmacy, if it weren’t for all of the obstacles I faced in the past. My company was directly inspired by my frustration at being unable to help patients within the traditional confines of retail pharmacy.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Jessica Nouhavandi: I think for a lot of people, the system appears so big and complicated that it seems impossible to change. Politicians promise to address the industry’s issues and leaders of huge pharmaceutical corporations launch expensive marketing campaigns claiming they are “prioritizing patients,” but progress seems hard to come by.

But I believe this elusive change is possible by building an entirely new system. That’s why Honeybee Health doesn’t work with insurance companies, PBMs, or other middlemen and instead sells affordable medications directly to patients. When I first started Honeybee Health, everyone told me it was impossible. In fact, people still tell me it is impossible. But every day I come to work alongside my employees and we do the hard work of slowly making our dream a reality. We now help tens of thousands of patients across the U.S. get access to their life-saving medications.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Jessica Nouhavandi: It’s really important to take time for yourself. The life of an entrepreneur is extremely busy. While it might not seem like you have the time, it is essential for both your physical and mental health to recharge occasionally.

Additionally, this gives you room to reflect. It can be easy to only look for guidance answers from outside sources, such as investors and advisors. However, I’ve found that when I face a difficult business decision, the most important step is to take some time by myself without outside influences and reconnect with my original company mission. That way, I often find the right answer on my own.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Jessica Nouhavandi: Personal referral from patients or doctors is one of the best ways Honeybee Health can get the word out. This type of organic growth is incredibly powerful, as people trust those they know much more than any company communication or marketing effort. We’ve found our organic growth rate is so high because we place such a premium on customer service. The number one question driving every single business decision at Honeybee Health is, “What is best for the patient?” Our patients recognize that and reward it with referrals.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Jessica Nouhavandi: Hiring, and consequently, having to make the difficult decision to let some hires go, is definitely one of the hardest parts of my job. I’ve made hires before that didn’t work out, and I always take it as a personal failure. For each employee I bring on, I invest so much time into helping them reach their full potential within the company. So, when it doesn’t end up working as a long-term relationship, I feel like I have failed in some way to fully nurture them. However, with time I’ve learned to recognize that often when an employee is let go for performance or culture reasons, it works out better for all parties involved in the long run. While I’m the type of person who loves really getting to know my employees and considers them family, I’ve learned as CEO that I have to prioritize the success and mission of the company in order to help as many patients as possible. That means I need to have the best team possible performing at the highest level.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Jessica Nouhavandi: For many patients, their experience navigating the healthcare system in the U.S. is negative. I think it’d be great if someone started a business that brought more small, positive moments of happiness to patients with chronic conditions–such as diabetes, anxiety, depression, and autoimmune conditions. I’m envisioning gift baskets tailored to an individual’s health conditions, full of things like healthy snacks and other self-care items. I did this once for a patient whose dog was sick and she came to us for pet medications (Honeybee Health fills prescriptions for pet medications that are also human medications). Along with her order, I sent her a care package full of dog treats and toys and she absolutely loved it.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Jessica Nouhavandi: I think everyone is struggling right now to feel connected and cared for during the current coronavirus crisis. So, recently I spent $100 putting together care packages for my closest friends, filled with books that focus on mental health, self-love, and self-care. As all of us have started reading the books together, it’s really made us feel closer.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Jessica Nouhavandi: I love Slack! It’s been such a helpful tool for staying organized and productive, especially as many of my employees have transitioned to working from home. I’ve also found it can be a great way to bring our brand to life internally and keep company morale high, which is so important during times like these. We’ve created channels such as #IMD-bee for employees to share movie recommendations; #fuzz-buzz for employee pet photos, and #beehive for company announcements, birthdays, and anniversaries. The whole company has really bonded during this time, which in turn increases loyalty and commitment to Honeybee Health’s mission.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Jessica Nouhavandi: I consider “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck as essential reading for all entrepreneurs and employees. I’ve found that a lot of people approach business—and life—with a fixed mindset, whereas Carol teaches you something called a “growth mindset.” In a fixed mindset, success is seen as stemming from innate abilities. A “growth mindset” instead represents the belief that success comes from hard work, learning, and training. I recommend this book to every new employee at Honeybee Health, and I reference it all of the time (especially when mentoring and coaching employees).

What is your favorite quote?

Jessica Nouhavandi: My favorite quote is by Dolly Parton: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” I believe that you must know who you are if you are to succeed in business and life. Your passion and inspiration stem from this self-knowledge, and you will need both to overcome the many obstacles that line an entrepreneur’s path.

Key Learnings:

Jessica Nouhavandi:

  • Stick to your mission. There are many shiny new objects that can distract an entrepreneur from their path, so be mindful and stay grounded.
  • Reach beyond your comfort zone. This is where you find the best inspiration and grow.
  • Embrace being a mentor and encouraging others–especially those who are underrepresented in your field. Build a cohort of energetic, dedicated employees you can turn to for inspiration, encouragement, and advice.

Originally published on Ideamensch.com

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