SeamlessMD Podcast – Episode 15 – Robert Ritlop: Lessons Learned Investing in Health-Tech



In this episode of the SeamlessMD Podcast, Dr. Joshua Liu, Co-founder & CEO at SeamlessMD, and marketing colleague, Alan Sardana, chat with entrepreneur and Director of Investments at MEDTEQ+, Robert Ritlop, MBA, M.Eng, about the lessons he’s learned investing in health-tech. See the full show notes below for details.

Guest(s): Mr. Robert Ritlop, MBA, M. Eng, Director of Investments at MEDTEQ+

Dr. Joshua Liu (@joshuapliu), Co-founder & CEO at SeamlessMD

Episode 15 – Show notes:

[00:25] Introducing Robert Ritlop, MBA, M.Eng, Director of Investments at MEDTEQ+;

[02:28] Why Mr. Ritlop transitioned from working in health-tech to investing in health-tech so he could focus on greater healthcare impacts especially at home in Canada;

[04:35] Why Mr. Ritlop misses building solutions because it is higher touch, on the frontline, and how he values balance and how investing allows him to focus on high-level advising where he can have a greater impact;

[06:13] How Mr. Ritlop learned to invest by trial-and-error and how he looks for founders who are balanced, make good decisions, are resilient, and are able to “stay in their lane” and solid product-market fit;

[09:16] Why Mr. Ritlop says investing in healthcare is a completely different animal than investing in other industries because there is much less room for error, it’s more expensive, and the feedback loop is delayed;

[11:06] How the Canadian healthcare market is fragmented because of the single-payer system and why Mr. Ritlop advises his Canadian healthcare companies to do business in the United States;

[12:05] How, in healthcare, startups require a Minimum Sellable Product rather than a Minimum Viable Product as viability will keep you pigeon-holed for research only;

[12:52] Why Mr. Ritlop believes there is a disconnect between healthcare companies and academics because academics value research and use grants to pay for pilots, which are often not sustainable for company growth unless the company chooses the grants intentionally to hit certain product milestones;

[14:34] How healthcare companies often have ‘stickier’ deals with less churn compared to other industries;

[15:50] Why Dr. Liu has an issue with grants because you can get a grant to study any research question you want but it doesn’t tell you if it’s a problem that the hospital will pay to solve;

[16:30] Why Mr. Ritlop believes it is up to the entrepreneur to steer the grant project in a way that adds value to the core product so that the company can continue to grow to leverage the grant(s);

[18:20] Why Mr. Ritlop pushes for hospital leadership to get involved with the grant project so there is a clear path forward for operationalization following the grant period;

[19:00] Why Mr. Ritlop believes it would be advantageous for hospitals to give a physical “stamp of approval” to good products used in grants if they are not going to operationalize the product so that companies can qualify for future deals easier;

[19:15] Why Mr. Ritlop thinks government grants should buy equity in the business to better support the company’s long term growth;

[21:00] Why Dr. Liu believes focusing solely on grants as opposed to selling the core product is potentially dangerous in that you may be deluding your sense of product-market fit;

[21:30] Why Mr. Ritlop believes SeamlessMD is one of the OG’s of Digital Patient Engagement because of the company lifespan, the revenues, and the resilience he’s seen;

[22:14] Why Mr. Ritlop believes SeamlessMD is a workflow optimizer because it touches the entire patient journey, improves the workflow for everyone involved, and has demonstrated consistent outcome improvements such as Length of Stay;

[23:30] Why Canadian healthcare companies rarely sell to Canadian hospitals because healthcare is viewed as a business in the United States and a public good in Canada, and how the willingness to pay is greater in the US vs. Canada;

[25:10] Why saving workflow time is more valuable in healthcare than other industries because available clinician time is limited;

[26:50] Why Mr. Ritlop hopes that COVID-19 will give the healthcare a wake-up call to the need for Digital Patient Engagement and how backwards it is that a pandemic had to happen to make the business model viable;

[27:38] How phone calls are still the leading telehealth platform even though it is not efficient and why he hopes Digital Patient Engagement gets properly recognized for its myriad advantages such as automation and scalability;

[29:15] Why Mr. Ritlop thinks value-based care is important for innovation and progress because it aligns incentives with quality improvement;

[31:30] Why Mr. Ritlop is bullish on Clinical Decision Support (CDS) platforms because they ultimately democratize health and can have a greater impact on population health;

[32:00] Why Mr. Ritlop believes democratization of health is the future of health because of its advantages saving on wait times and cost; 

[34:35] Why MEDTEQ+ invests in Canadian healthcare companies for the knock-on effect to inspire growth in the future of Canadian business;

[37:30] Why Mr. Ritlop once believed it was impossible for a health-tech company to grow its business only in Canada due to regulation and policy impeding progress but how the Canadian healthcare market is starting to change with new networks available such as CanHealth and the Beachhead Network to support healthcare product adoption;

[41:00] Why Dr. Liu preaches for healthcare to change the incentive models around health outcomes and quality to better support innovation adoption and progress;

[43:00] Why Mr. Ritlop believes Canadian businesses need more ‘swagger’ to avoid the conservatism that impedes healthcare innovation;

[44:15] Why Mr. Ritlop had to engage in medical tourism for an artificial spine disk procedure so he could avoid a spine fusion (the standard of care in Canada at the time), and why the democratization of healthcare would allow others access to the information he got by having insider knowledge via specific medical suppliers;

[48:08] Fast 5 / Lightning Round Questions:

Q: What is your favourite book?

A: I’m not a big reader, but I’ll tell you my favourite Captain is Picard

Q: Who is a person, dead or alive, you’d like to meet?

A: Harley Finkelstein, Chief Operating Officer at Shopify

Q: What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?

A: Focus on Health. You’ve got to play the long game.

Q: Have you ever ‘lost your shirt’ on an investment?

A: Yes, with Bitcoin. I was late to the game and got on the train at the peak.

Q: What new hobbies/activities/skills have you picked up since COVID-19?

A: In addition to running a part-time daycare at home, I’ve learned how to do my own car maintenance – it’s surprisingly easy and I saved a ton of money

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