Women in Tech Interview with Kate, Co-Founder at CloudInsyte
Women in Technology WNY is here to feature the stories of women in our local community and the various technology roles they fill, traditional and non-traditional. TechBuffalo is here to highlight these women to encourage others to not only explore technology opportunities but to take advantage of them. Kate & I discussed how her passion of healthcare and technology drove this prior pre-med student to become a founder of an IT Company and a lover of Buffalo.
I did some digging and I’m interested to know, how does a nutritional major ends up in IT?
Yeah, it was an interesting path! I started as a biology major. I quickly realized that I was not going to have an easy time setting myself apart from all the other bio majors who were also probably pre-med, coming out of the University of Delaware. So, I looked at some of the other majors that would still get me those Med school prerequisites and allow me to have a different path that wasn’t just biology and I found nutritional science. It was about human metabolism and what your body is doing as it’s processing micronutrients and macronutrients, how deficiencies presented, etc. I loved that because I was also an athlete (I was on the rowing team), and I was interested in how you fuel your body with food to perform as an athlete.
As I got into my junior and senior years, I was working for a health tech startup that was going into employer settings and trying to help the employer get their employees to be healthier. They would then report the results of that initiative back to the health insurance companies to get that employer a reduction in their health insurance premiums. It was interesting and I felt it was a good experience. At the time, the Affordable Care Act was coming out and the whole landscape of healthcare was changing in a big way. The doctors I was shadowing at the time were really pushing me away from going to Med school. I was starting to see firsthand through shadowing and my job how nutrition intersected with healthcare and western medicine. And also, how technology intersected with healthcare. I thought, “this is where the innovation is going to be over the next couple of years, because they are so behind the times!”
On a leap of faith, I decided not to go to Med school. I went to work for what was then called Health Promotion Solutions. After about a year of working there full time, I started to like the risk assessment technology we used. But it wasn’t our proprietary technology, it belonged to another company we worked with. I realized that I had a strong desire to work with the company that was building the technology, that was far more exciting to me, but I couldn’t leave my current company to work with one of our partners. So, I found this other company called CipherHealth, based in New York City. I started as an account manager there. Even though I had worked with this other technology, I didn’t have any true tech skills; I was just aggressively interested in learning about the technology that powered these cool products. So I decided to just get to know the smart people that I worked with who knew about that technology. I became close with the developers and got to ask all the stupid questions. I began to understand how the backend of the system worked and where some of the challenges were. As I was learning all of this, I worked myself into the role of product management. I spent two years in this dual role of account & product management, supporting our clients and understanding what their needs were and what their pain points were and making scalable solutions for the larger hospitals that came on board. So, that’s honestly how I ended up in tech. I was just interested in technology that I didn’t know a ton about, but that I knew could have a broader impact on patients’ lives than any one person could as a medical provider and I just kept learning more.
So, you reached a point where you were ready to step back and start your business. At what point did you realize this is the time? What influenced you to start CloudInsyte?
I had been at this company for six years. I was the fifth employee, I had been through a lot of the company’s growth and we had just completed a $37MM Series A raise. I had an opportunity to sell some of my equity, and I planned to take that and start this other company because starting a company was another goal of mine. This felt like a good time, as the company had a big capital investment, they could hire people to replace me so they would be fine. After many years of living for that company, I decided that it was time for me to just take a chance on myself.
So, I was working on one of my last projects: finding a replacement vendor for one of our products that did all the patient communication over phone calls and text messages. This vendor’s IVR PaaS technology was a pretty big component of the system. We customized all the question trees, alerting, and reporting, but we really relied on that third-party solution to send the calls and texts to the carriers. So when we found out that this vendor was sunsetting this product, it was a stressful time scrambling to figure out a process to vet new vendors. As I was doing due diligence on other vendors, I realized that the landscape was actually pretty wide in terms of what I was looking for, but in terms of the specific needs I had, I couldn’t find anyone that could do what I needed. I had spreadsheets with fields upon fields of information on these vendors and their products and capabilities. I just continued to add to that, and it felt like it was a never-ending project with no happy outcome. It was so frustrating!
At the time, I was talking to my now business partner. He had experience in the space, so he recommended some vendors that I could check out. He was also kind of starting CloudInsyte, but with a slightly different focus as startups typically are in the beginning until they fine tune their fit in the market. He wanted to build a company that would bring in subject matter experts to consult on emerging areas of technology and help companies to find the right solution. I was like, “Yeah, hi, I’m a perfect example for why that would work”. We worked together on that project and I told him that instead of a consultancy, what would be more scalable and interesting would be if we just had a software platform that leveraged all of that data on all these products and vendors to match up the customers with the solutions, like a B2B dating app. So, we joined forces in something we both believed in and that’s how CloudInsyte got to be where it is today.
How did CloudInsyte move from NYC to Buffalo? What were the benefits of you guys moving?
Funny enough, I had come to Buffalo a bunch before, but only for Bills games. My co-founder is from Buffalo originally, so there were some Buffalo ties for me, but I definitely didn’t think I would live here one day. I grew up in New Jersey and then I was living in New York City for eight years and my cofounder was in New York City for 10 years. We just started to look at it soon after we started the company: New York City is expensive to live and to have a company. If you have a startup, and you have New York City level expenses, your runway is a lot shorter than if you were somewhere like Buffalo where the cost of office space is not going to be like $1400 a month, it’s going be $300 a month. Plus, you can come to Buffalo and tell people that you started this company and want to bring it to Buffalo and the response is just about the best thing ever! We had such a warm welcome even though we hadn’t made our decision yet. Seriously, we were just thinking about coming to Buffalo and people were like, “okay, how can we help you? Let me introduce you to somebody.” It was the best thing we did because we were able to come in and extend our runway, we had all this access to great talent in Buffalo that we didn’t know about, there was all of this development that was happening, the startup community booming in Buffalo…it was amazing and we had had no idea about any of it before. So, we started to realize that Buffalo made sense for us.
Being a founder is very isolating and had we stayed in New York City, I don’t know that we’d be in the same place that we are today. We attribute a lot of that to Buffalo. Buffalo has been good to us, the people of Buffalo have been great to us.
You’ve been here a couple of years now, what do you see the Buffalo tech ecosystem looking like in a few years?
So, Josh (my cofounder) and I have a vision where we can get a lot of groups really rallied together around a Buffalo Innovation Partnership. Like we saw sadly, TechStars lost their contract with Buffalo with everything going on, and 43 N isn’t doing the competition this year. But, I think that’s all temporary. Buffalo has come back from worse. You look at Buffalo and the culture and it really has this comeback vibe, it’s almost this scrappy, underdog spirit of “we’re going to prove you wrong no matter how long it takes and how hard we have to fight.” And damn, I just love that about Buffalo! I mean, you see it in the sports teams and the fans, just how brutally loyal everyone is – it’s impossible to not notice and be excited by it. There is just a different level of passion here. People care about Buffalo at their core and they care about their community; it truly is the city of good neighbors.
So, this partnership we envision, I think we are seeing the foundations being laid within Buffalo, but ultimately we want to see the startups working with the large corporations, the government, the nonprofits, etc all around a common purpose of building Buffalo. I think we can do that well here, especially if everyone can avoid trying to do it in silos and work together, I mean we have strong potential to create a true hub for technology and innovation in Buffalo.
What advice would you give for those who are looking to start a business?
So, starting CloudInsyte, we had a real problem that needed solving and we were passionate about it. Any company you’re trying to start, you must look at the problem that you’re trying to solve. You want to make sure that you’ve got that validation, that there’s that product/market fit. Make sure that it’s something that needs changing or something that fills a need. It is either a need because there’s a lack of or that you know it’s being done one way and it could be done better. You’ve got to make sure you’re passionate about it. If you’re not passionate about it, it’s going to drive you crazy. Those hards days will be that much harder to come back from. If you don’t feel like you can have a conversation about it daily, several times a day, then you might want to reevaluate, maybe wait and see if there’s something more exciting that you come across down the line that is worth pursuing further.
In closing, can you leave us with a piece of advice you wish someone would have given you at the start of your career?
Oh, there’s a lot! I think the one that would be most important that I had to figure out later was just how important authenticity is. I think that we’re always so stressed about making an impression and saying the right thing and asking the right questions. Being in a startup environment where I was able to be my authentic self early on really helped me to develop into a leader that I wanted to be. It wasn’t until I had gone through leadership courses that I realized how important that was.
People connect with your authentic self more than you being some textbook, forced version of someone you think you should be. Nobody wants a forced version of you. When you’re inauthentic, you’re likely not going to connect as well with people, especially with your customers or your team. When you understand that being your authentic self is going to be the strongest foundation you can have, then you can really stand on that confidence and go do great things.
Thank you Kate for virtually sitting down with me for our third installment of our Women in Tech WNY series. If you would like to learn more about Kate, visit her LinkedIn page! Also check out CloudInsyte and stay up to date on the industry musings from the Insyte Mafia.