He took his last business from $1.5M to $10M/year helping doctors. Now he wants to change healthcare communication
Meet Vermonter Ethan Bechtel, internet entrepreneur since 2000 and founder of healthcare text messaging platform OhMD.
He took his last business from $1.5M to $10M/year helping doctors. Now he wants to change healthcare communication

Hello Ethan! Thanks for chatting with AllYouCanTech. Can you please introduce your company to our audience?

OhMD makes healthcare communication simple. We believe that improved communication improves patient outcomes while making physicians and healthcare providers more efficient and better at what they do.

The OhMD app on iOS, Android, and Web is free, and enables doctors to text message with each other in a secure/encrypted way. It also allows patients to text message with their practices with that same level of security. Regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require software solutions to adhere to a certain set of guidelines to protect patient privacy, so OhMD was designed to be easiest to use HIPAA compliant texting app for healthcare.

When and how did you start OhMD?

I joined my mother’s company in the mid-2000s along with my brother/co-founder Nate. That company, MBA HealthGroup, was launched as a medical billing company and physician practice consultancy in 1990. By the time Nate and I joined, the transition from paper charts to electronic health records (EHRs) was in its infancy. So we happened to be at the right place at the right time and were able to grow the company from 18 to over 100 employees by focusing on the implementation, configuration, and deployment of EHRs in some of the largest hospitals nationwide.

In a meeting five years later, Rich Tarrant, one of the founders of Vermont-based IDX Systems (sold to GE Healthcare for $1.2B), gave us some advice. He said “If you really want to change the world, you have to develop software of your own”. At the time, we were two young guys with a unique combination of enterprise health tech experience and consumer tech/app experience. We were acutely aware of problems with health tech because of our consulting business, so we always thought about how to solve those problems with software.

At the same time, texting in the consumer tech space was picking up speed. Solutions like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger began to gain momentum, and we recognized we could make texting HIPAA compliant by building a messaging app specifically for healthcare. The biggest problem in healthcare is communication, and we wanted to make communication simple, fast, and efficient with OhMD. We wanted to design a user experience that focused on the physicians and patients.

How did you fund the company?

We spent a few years bootstrapping at first. We hired an incredibly talented developer to build out a minimum viable product (MVP) to allow patients to text with their practices to replace phone calls.

In 2014, we were accepted into the Blueprint Health Accelerator in NYC to expedite our growth. That was the first investment we secured for OhMD, but that $20,000 didn’t really pay the bills, so we continued to bootstrap.

In 2016 we were fortunate enough to be introduced to some incredible investors with ties to the health tech community in Vermont that agreed to fund our $1.2M Seed Round.

How did you get your first customers/users?

Our original physician users were here in Vermont and were some of the most important customers for driving our vision and roadmap. They worked with us to help design features that would provide value for both physician and patient.

One of our most important early customers was one of the top cancer hospitals in the world, based out of NYC. They discovered us at a “speed-dating” of sorts for health tech companies and hospitals.

After our implementation there, we knew we were on to something when 97% of their patients preferred OhMD over their patient portal or a phone call.

Today, we have a huge and quickly growing user-base of physician nationwide that use OhMD to communicate with their colleagues, care teams, and patients.

How did you pick Vermont as the home for the company?

There’s an impressive health tech community in Vermont. It’s incredible. And almost every health tech company here has ties back to IDX Systems in one way or another. So for us, as Vermonters, we knew we’d continue being involved in a thriving health tech community right here in Vermont. Our developers are in NYC and Texas and we’ve been working as a remote team for years now, so for us to be in Vermont works just as well as having us in NYC.

Tell us more about you background. Have you started any companies before?

I’ve been an entrepreneur since I can remember. From baseball card shops in my parents garage to candy bar slinging on the bus in grade school.

In college in 2001 I taught myself how to design a website and to generate revenue from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) before that was even a thing. Back in those days, the internet was the wild west and a few modifications to a website’s metadata could equate to huge traffic.

In 2003 my brother and I launched a website that aggregated gas prices, and then built a music app that allowed people in a social setting to vote on what song would play next.

You went to school at the University of Vermont. Can you speak to what that education was like, in particular how it prepared for your career?

UVM gave me a good foundation to build on and taught me the fundamentals of business and entrepreneurship. After I graduated, it took me a few months to realize that much of what I had taught myself about the internet on my own also had a lot of potential to help grow the family business.

After seeing only mediocre results with print ads and postcard mailers, I tested some of my knowledge around SEO and Google Adwords to MBA HealthGroup’s consulting business. I discovered that I could drive targeted traffic to our website, convert that traffic to leads, and those leads to customers. In a matter of months, our SEO/Adwords strategy was generating $500,000/year in additional consulting revenue. My brother and I continued to test different variations of web growth tactics along with some more traditional marketing strategies. We were fortunate to have an amazing team and were well positioned in the market which allowed us to grow the company from $1.5M to $10M in annual revenue.

What are some of the upsides as well as challenges of having a tech company in Vermont?

In Vermont, I’m lucky enough to be able to enjoy summer weekends on the lake and winter weekends on skis. I can get to Stowe for a run or two in the morning before a full day of work, and I can get a hike or boat ride in after work and on weekends. Vermont has so much to offer even if it doesn’t have the same energy as NYC.

As a business owner, it can be challenging to find really talented people to join our team. We have to work really hard to find top talent, and often have to look outside Vermont to bring on great people remotely.

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs in Vermont?

In entrepreneurship, you have to be relentlessly persistent long enough to get lucky. Also, don’t wait to build out your professional network. I can’t even count how many times my network has come through to help me get something important done.

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