Podcast Transcript: Hiring Talent to Drive Digital Health Innovation

By Sacha Heppell - September 08, 2020

 

Hiring Talent to Drive Digital Health Innovation - Interview with Polina Hanin

Polina Hanin oversaw and managed a portfolio of 300+ companies at Startup Health. She was the primary coach for entrepreneurs at all stages of the startup lifecycle. Today she is the Principal at Aequitas Partners that exists to help healthcare companies hire the best executive leaders in the industry.

Sacha Heppell

Welcome to Who Would Have Thought my name is Sacha Heppell, Chief Marketing Officer of SmartTab. I'm hosting this podcast with Robert Niichel, our founder and CEO. Robert's experience and leadership and management of pharmaceutical research and development led to the founding of SmartTab in 2016 to combine wireless technology with pharmaceutical drug delivery. Digital health innovation like this happening at a rapid pace and young health tech companies like SmartTab will become even larger as they build out manufacturing and other activities that require a lot of talented people to fulfill their mission of improving patient outcomes. This is a time where we must rethink our strategies and adapt to the changed talent landscape, in this episode uncover some of those blind spots and unknowns about the future of attracting talent in the pursuit of transforming healthcare. So with that, I'll pass it over to you, Robert to introduce our very special guest.

Robert Niichel

Thank you, Sacha, I'd like to give a big welcome to Polina Hanin. Paulina oversaw and managed a portfolio of over 300 companies while at StartUp Health. She was the primary coach for entrepreneurs at all stages of the startup lifecycle, which led to companies raising more than a billion dollars in capital funding. Today, she is a principal at Aequitas Partners that exists to help healthcare companies hire the best executive leaders in the industry building teams for high growth digital health, innovation, companies. Hello Polina and thank you for being here today. Let's start out with learning more about your background and how you got to the current role that you're in now helping out healthcare companies hire the best talent in the industry.

Polina Hanin

Sure. And thank you very much for having me on on your show. I'm really honored and excited to be a part of it. I got to think the role where I'm at today through a little bit of a self exploration path. And what I narrowed it down to in terms of the narrative thread is that I've always just been a champion of entrepreneurs, particularly entrepreneurs who find themselves transforming healthcare in one way, shape, or form. I started out in venture capital and medical devices, then went to be a VC mode and health IT and then spent the better part of a decade working hand in hand with hundreds of founding teams add StartUp Health, so at StartUp Health that we are really just double down on the entrepreneurial mindset and the transformative mindset that every entrepreneur should have on their mission to transforming healthcare. And that's something that has always stuck with me. And to be able to impact entrepreneurs throughout their entire lifecycle with that mindset was a really powerful, powerful thing to do. But on top of that, one item that became very clear is that it's not enough just for the entrepreneur and the founder or the CEO of a particular company, to have a transformational mindset. You need the people around you to have that mindset as well, regardless of whether those are other executives, other founders, your investors or team members, that mindset needs to persist and prevail. And so I doubled down on this particular initiative and concept by joining Aequitas Partners and Aequitas as a firm that builds up leadership teams And it's a firm that's really bringing integrity to the hiring process and hopefully a little bit of joy at the same time. And so now through this particular endeavor, I'm able to really impact the way in which founders hire and the types of individuals that they bring into a team to help them achieve some of those grand visions that they set out to do.

Robert Niichel

Very nice. Very, very nice. And then thinking ahead, you know, a lot of companies are shifting towards new patient-centered businesses in terms of their model. And we certainly understand the commitment and importance of a strong team. And we've worked hard to build a strong team here at SmartTab, as well, but as we grow, we can see there will be challenges in finding the right people. So the question then is, what have you seen as some of the major challenges that companies have faced in finding the right balance with new hires and building their team?

Polina Hanin

So it's a great question, and most of the time, I think that hiring teams fall on to or into a pathway, where it's like, well, I'm not just not seeing the right candidates, or, I'm not seeing the right people. And to be fair, the work actually starts with the organization. And it is a lot of work upfront that winds up being missed because you think that, it's like, Oh, I just need a marketing guy, or I just need a sales guy, or I just need somebody for product, but you don't actually do the hard work and defining it. So what winds up happening is that you almost use the interviewing process or the hiring process to figure out what it is you need and a little bit of that is fine, and to fine tune and hone in on exactly what you're looking for. But you really should be doing a lot of that studying and good internal question asking at the very beginning. So when you say marketing, what do you mean? Do you want somebody who's in the field so you want somebody who's focused on product? When you say sales, do you actually mean business development. Do you mean a Chief Revenue Officer, Commercial Officer or Growth Officer or VP of Sales, do you want senior individual Junior somewhere in the middle. And those are some of the questions that many folks fail to ask. And then the other biggest hurdle that we see is a lack of understanding of what your levers are within your business. Particularly if a companies is at the Series A or the Series B stage, sometimes they jump the gun to particular hire, when in reality need to be thinking a little bit beforehand. So you may think that you do need somebody in sales. But if you hire the best salesperson, that individual is going to get you a ton of accounts, but your product isn't going to be able to handle it. So maybe you should be thinking about building up your product for success first before you bring in somebody into the sales function. So those two things of doing that internal analysis of the appropriate levers and then really understanding exactly what you need. And what you're looking for and why you're looking for that individual is gonna help you then go out to your network and ask for the exact right person. And that will shape the types of people that you see.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, very interesting. And then as we take that one step further, and you're hiring within the healthcare industry, whether it's, you know, software, digital platforms, delivery systems, how do you see the hiring process different for healthcare, versus maybe some other types of industries?

Polina Hanin

I think mission is a really big one. It's something that will actually bring a person to you that you maybe wouldn't have necessarily gotten because they feel an affinity towards what you're working on. And that's something that is so powerful, being able to state your mission, what you're trying to achieve the goals that you're trying to hit over the long term, who are you trying to impact who you a hero to? Those types of things are magnets for the right people. So you're not necessarily building a game or something that just takes up time and a mindshare, you're not just building up a to do list application that's slightly better than something that exists before, you're likely building something that doesn't exist yet. So to be able to convince an individual to take a chance on you, or to take that risk and leaving their really secure, probably high paying job and join up with something that is hasn't been realized yet, is really powerful to be able to say, and it all hangs on that mission. I don't think that there's many industries out there that truly are able to maximize a mission driven has certainly not many companies that are able to maximize that mission driven hiring process. And that's something that is really exciting in healthcare.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, very nice. Very nice. And then how do you specifically partner with your health care companies to build out these effective hiring processes and teams for growth.

Polina Hanin

Yeah, it really is a partnership. I think many of the organizations that we've seen that are within our ecosystem just tend to take the spec and they say, Yep, this exists, we'll go find it. We push a lot. And we push back, we want to make sure that the people that you're bringing in are going to be the right individuals for your organization, are they going to be additive and additive to the culture? And are they going to be an accelerant of your business? So we press a lot on the on those assumptions that the company has. The other thing that I think makes us a pretty special and one of the things that we try to do within every collaboration that we strike is actually to bring some fun and joy to the hiring process. I mean, so when I was at StartUp Health, one of the things that I heard over and over again, was a company just raised money. I have to hire a VP of sales, I have to hire a head of product, I really need to bring in an advisory board for for clinical engagements initiatives. And it all of a sudden it had this sense of urgency and panic and just you know, you're barreling through, you're going from one challenge to another as an entrepreneur. So one of the things that we actually want to do is bring some fun and joy into the process where you get to be really excited and instead of saying, I have to hire you say I, oh, man, I get to hire a VP says Finally, I get to bring in a VP of sales. I'm so excited to have somebody who understands what they're doing, who could get me into the places that I've never been able to get into. This is going to be so much fun. We've had a lot of interaction so with our clients recently when one in particular who no joke, used the word delighted when we talked about a candidate. He's like, I'm so delighted that this person was just presented to me, like, I didn't think that that was an emotion I was gonna have on a search call. So that makes it, that makes it fun. And just a brings a little bit of levity that I think we all need in our day to day particularly during something that is as important as this.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, very interesting. It looks like one of the tools that you work with is the Health Talent Exchange. Could you maybe talk a little bit more about that for us?

Polina Hanin

Oh, absolutely. So the Health Talent Exchange came up as a response to what we were seeing happen when COVID hit, there were two things that wound up happening. One is that all of a sudden hiring, or people were talking about hiring freezing, particularly because it you saw a lot of people start to get laid off. There's all these companies are cash conscious. Their investors are certainly cash conscious. And so a lot of folks that got displaced at the same time, though healthcare was as an industry and an eco system was in a really unique position where there was so much opportunity all of a sudden, and you all of a sudden had an opportunity to help where you may not have gotten that opportunity before. So now companies need to execute. And now they have needs from the product side from the sales, side account management that they just didn't have before. So you had this market displacement, where you had to focus on the one side that were unfortunately let go, and they likely would not have been on the market at all, because they would have been doing quite well at their jobs. And then you had the other side of the market is like, oh, man, I need to hire, I need to backfill. And so what we did was we wanted to create a space where companies could list the open jobs that they had or the most urgent jobs that they needed to hire for and these brand new candidates, or talent pool could search for us. And do a completely for free for both sides of that of that network, it was really important for us to be able to democratize this and to have it be a space that was authentic and that was accurate to the jobs that are being searched for today because listen looking for a job is rough at it at any stage. And with everything that was happening with COVID it was even more of a vulnerable time for people to be in. So we just wanted to make the process a little bit easier. And it's been working really well so far.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, that's really exciting. And then are there any like additional things you will use for people who have been, you know, laid off out of work and kind of kind of, you know, empower them to you know, get positive again, let's go out let's get a job let's kind of reengage. Are there any things in particular that you use when you know kind of going from kind of a sudden loss of job to Okay, Yeah, I need to pick it up get positive. And let's go again.

Polina Hanin

Yeah, that's a great question. So we do not have things that are formalized, but we've been doing them ad hoc. So we do a lot of conversations that we're having of people referring their colleagues or friends over to us and said, Okay, can you help this individual will do resume reviews as needed, somebody wants to send us their resume, regardless of who it is in terms of their seniority or executive type of position, we'll do it. And to be honest, within this whole talent exchange, there is such a wealth of opportunities. So there's now over 70 companies on it 700 plus jobs that are live over the last five months, there have been 2000 jobs that have been on it throughout that duration, and that's just a place for you to go, like you don't need to go through job boards that don't cater to your expertise. You can go to one place and it makes you think feel like you have choice and that you have agency and its really that you're able to make a decision. Rather than feeling like you have to take the first thing that comes across. The other thing that we've been offering as a it relates to talent exchange is a talent network. So you can add your name to a list to be discovered. And we've talked to a number of people within this ecosystem that we partner up with that have had their talent managers or recruiting folks actually dive through that list and find people off of it and connect with them in order to see if there is a collaboration or potential job opportunity that could be struck there. So that has been for all those listening who may be a little bit down on what has been going on there has a lot of hiring that is happening and you do have choice within matter. You do have a say as to where you land next.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, that's a very exciting, you know, kind of upbeat approach to that. So I mean, obviously right now, the last few months were easy for a lot of people to get kind of down and out. But this sounds like a great platform to bring people back to engage, kind of moving on to a different section with the hiring and the talent pools. So we SmartTab, we're located in Denver, Colorado, of course, and as you know, there's been kind of this migration of people away from maybe places like Silicon Valley, a lot of people moving to Denver, and you start to see some of these cities kind of springing up, you know, Denver, certainly becoming kind of a growing health tech innovation hub. How do you see what's your position, Polina? How different migration, you know, maybe even out of New York to other cities that are popping up that tend to be kind of these hotspots for the health tech industry.

Polina Hanin

Migration is actually a really interesting and great word for it because it does feel a little bit migratory and, for lack of a better word, no nomadic in nature. I think that originally, I think that you had hubs form Because you had a combination of customers coupled with investors that wanted to be around those customers, and therefore companies that wanted to be both around investors and around their target customers, so that's where you had, particularly within health tech, you had these hubs come up that were within the Bay Area you had. So there's such a wealth of hospital systems there. You had a huge ecosystem form up in Boston. And you have the same thing happen in New York City, where there's tons of hospitals, tons of potential customers from the from the payer side, and clearly there's capital and capital that about 10 years ago started to shift or started to take on health tech and used to have a little bit of that gap. Whether you're not exactly healthcare or life science, you're not exactly technology. You're a little bit in the middle. But now this entire industry and ecosystem has been legitimized, but particularly as it relates to With everything happening with COVID, I think people are starting to place a lot more of an emphasis on their lifestyle and knowing now seeing it really seeing it over the last five months, that great work can be done remotely, that you can still collaborate with your customers over a video platform that you can still collaborate with your investors that you can hire without meeting somebody that you can get funded. without meeting somebody, you now do have a little bit of this migration to borrow your word into places where people actually want to live and have a lifestyle. So in Denver, you had this fantastic opportunity with the entire Colorado spectrum of hospital systems that from an academic side of children side you have great funders, you have fantastic entrepreneurs that are starting to formulate there and communities are always going to be a thing so people will always want to be around to others who are like them or like minded to them or people that they can learn from and grow with. So if a community is thriving and buzzing, that's going to draw other individuals to come out. So to get back into the space of Denver, it winds up being a choice that you all of a sudden gets to make. And rather than be bogged down to a specific geography simply because you have to because your employer is there.

Robert Niichel


Yeah, that makes sense. That makes sense. So great, great answers. And now I'd like to switch it over to Sacha and some additional questions about the different digital healthcare space. Go ahead, Sacha.

Sacha Heppell


Yeah. Thank you, Polina. I want to talk about the future. And as more and more new technologies become adopted in healthcare, and these digital health startups grow, how do you see this hiring process evolve? Like 10-20 years from now?

Polina Hanin

Yeah. When I started to think about this question, I thought to myself, like All people are always going to be hiring. So yeah, you're gonna have different tools and different technologies. And you'll have just things that we do on a day to day. But isn't an interview really going to be very different? I don't know. But the more I think about it, the more I think that it's actually going to change to be a little bit more competitive. And both companies hiring, and candidates are going to need to step their game up. And that's because it's going to be based off of exactly what we were just talking about. People are going to be nomadic, right? They're going to live where they want to live. And as companies get much more comfortable with a remote setting, they're now going to have choice in terms of the types of candidates that they bring in. They're not limited to the people who are in their backyards. Same thing on the talent pool, you're not limited to working at an organization that just happens to be on the highway or freeway on your way to your current job. You're just not so because Choice exists, competition therefore exists. So this means that you're going to be looking for people who are the best of the best, you're likely going to be able to hire those types of individuals. And the way in which you do it is going to be so much centered around the type of work that your company is doing. Because if you think about it this way, you're because you're not limited to the type of company that you work for, you can then choose a company that aligns with your own personal purpose that aligns with the types of things that you want to do. And so all of that is going to need to be front and center. It goes all the way back to that mission driven thing that we were talking about earlier, you have to be really clear, your hiring process has to be really crisp, you need to be keeping tabs on networks, you need to be understanding how your candidate pool evolves. And all of that is it going to make this a much more dynamic, hiring process and you may have seen over years past,

Sacha Heppell

yeah. And with millennials, a lot of the things you mentioned is really important to them. And I also kind of wanted to see what you see makes this new generation of young people coming into the healthcare industry unique and how can companies kind of adapt to their values?

Polina Hanin

I don't think that companies necessarily need to be adapting towards the values that a specific individual or a group has. But you do need to understand exactly where the trends are. So we've seen time and time again, and particularly over the last six months with the types of conversations that have been going on with around diversity and health equity, starting with the social determinants of health and the triple, quadruple aim. It is very easy to be displaced. It is very easy. For incumbents to start to wither, and if they don't innovate, and if they don't adapt, and what we've seen, particularly in the younger generation is their willingness to actually adapt, and is their ability to make certain choices and make certain decisions. I mean, like you, if you really think about it at those earlier stages and your career path, that's likely when you're going to be least risk averse. So you're going to want to take on risk the other time is likely going to be when you have a lot of liquidity, right. And you can play around with that, that tends to be in the slightly older generations. And so now's the time to be able to bring in some really talented, hungry driven individuals who are willing to learn who can actually learn quickly in order for you to be able to grow and nurture your company.

Sacha Heppell

Yeah, that's great and when they're Looking for that bringing in that talent? Is it important that like, do you see a lot of companies looking for digitally savvy talent, or people who have experience in patient care or can see the world from a patient's perspective or, and then definitely like that digital background,

Polina Hanin

It depends on the type of role that's being hired for, and it depends on the company. But mostly, I think it depends on the role. So the companies that I've seen do this really well are those that are able to spot potential and that are able to spot a path or trajectory for that individual to take what again, it honestly all centers around that mission. Because what you'll wind up seeing is a candidate to be able to say my purpose as an individual aligns very well with the mission of your company and all I want to do is be able to help you succeed. Here are the capabilities and abilities that I'm able to bring to the table. And then that hiring manager, whether it's the founder is it an executive or who, whoever, if they're able to then take that potential, take those capabilities and apply it to what is actually needed within the company, then you'll have an individual who can actually grow within that specific role grow out of it and continue to escalate within the ladder. Those you know, always speaking for me personally, those are the type always have been at the types of organizations and the types of opportunities that I've sought out. And whenever I speak to students who are graduating either undergrad or grad school that are saying, hey, I want to work at a startup. How do I do that? The biggest thing that I say is find an organization that fits with what you are looking for because working at a startup is hard, and it is not for the faint of heart and it is not sexy at all. I don't care what anybody says. It is a labor of love. And so You need to find something that you're going to be really passionate about to work on day in and day out and find the people who are gonna groom you into the future version of yourself.

Sacha Heppell

Definitely. And a lot of the talent out there is searching for these companies on whether it's the health talent exchange or somewhere online. And how important is it that a company's digital presence communicates their mission and their voice in on their digital presence out there? Like how important is that now,

Polina Hanin

Oh, so important. So I'll walk you through what happens to me every single day, every single day. I get on the phone with a lot of different people. And I pitch opportunities to them talk to them, stories share stories about opportunities that they can take on and when 80% of those folks are not looking for another job, right. They're happy with where a with where they are and And what winds up happening almost all the time is that when I mentioned the company's name that we're working with, the first thing they do is go on the website. Literally, as I'm talking to them. I hear the keys clacking. And now what I say is, you're likely going on the website, as we talk, what you'll see on their first page, or on their front page is going to be the mission of this organization. Now, when you click over to the team, here's who you see. So I, regardless of whether they're I know that they're doing it, I effectively walk them through a demo of their website live. And that's super duper important. We actually had this happen very recently with a position that we brought in where the individual was not really interested in leaving, and as soon as they clicked over to the website, they're like, Oh, that's their mission. Okay, that's interesting. clicked over to the team that like, that's the team like, yep, like alright, I'm interested in talking now. And that's happens more often than you think. We talked about people being risk averse, and startup risk, right? It exists with customers, but it also exists with candidates, like what is written about your company who has written about your company? What can they find when they Google you? are they finding just as disjointed website? are they finding really old blog posts and articles that have been written about you? Or are they finding something really exciting? And so that digital presence is paramount for you to be able to attract talent because that person is then going to go to their partner or is going to sit down with themselves and maybe with a confidant and be able to say, like, Hey, I am man, I am thinking about taking a chance. And here's what I here's what I see. And it's just it has to be done. That digital presence has to be alive and it has to be thriving, because otherwise you're going to have a rough go of it.

Sacha Heppell

Yeah, and it's not Like a static thing, it's an ongoing, yeah, ongoing thing.

Polina Hanin

There's only so much time that you can keep your website as stealth or particularly if you're hiring somebody at the executive level, they know what they're looking for. They're looking for certain signals. And those signals have to be there.

Sacha Heppell

Yeah, awesome. And, you know, we're part of StartUp Health. And we have been since the early beginning stages, and we remember those days seeing you around all the time. And, and, you know, we really miss you, we miss you miss seeing you around StartUp Health and hear in your voice. You know, I just wanted to kind of talk about how that commitment you had at StartUp Health is really driving what you're up to today, and what wakes you up in the morning? What does the future of healthcare, what does that future look like that you're working towards?

Polina Hanin

Great question. So I am still very much committed to start a path. I'm still an advisor. I will actually be doing office hours in a couple of weeks. So I am really excited to continue to support the health transformers, whether they were part of the 325 that is supported for the for my first eight years or they're the next 325 I will always, always, always be a champion for everything that you guys do on a day to day basis and be a supporter of this ecosystem with everything that Steve and Unity and the team there has created. It's amazing what we've been able to do. And it's one of the things that actually drives me at Aequitas. Aequitas actually comes from the Latin word for equity and integrity. And I wanted to be able to bring that to the to the teams that you guys as Health Transformers work with it every day. The thing that drives me is as I mentioned it's just being a champion of entrepreneurs and what that means is sharing their stories far and wide with people who may not necessarily have seen or heard those stories is to be able to connect you with individuals who you may not have met at StartUp Health that was with customers, investors and partners. And at Aequitas, it is with team members. That's where it all starts. And that's where it all begins. And so the best way for me to continue to support the StartUp Health portfolio is actually through the work that I'm doing in Aequitas to be able to find individuals who can accelerate your business and accelerated towards you hitting your moonshot. So what this holds for the future, I actually don't really know the world is changing so quickly, particularly with what we've seen over the last six months on not just a healthcare front, but the social front and societal front, and that to be on the front lines of that and to be a supporter and an advocate for entrepreneurship with healthcare is what drives me every day.

Sacha Heppell

Awesome, thank you. And thanks, Polina, for the work you do for these companies for the people the talent that you connect to these companies and your stand for the healthcare industry and your passion that takes us into the future and what what that holds? We don't know, but it's inspiring, and we look forward to staying in touch with you. And how can people actually get in touch with Aequitas partners and yourself? What's the best way to go about that?

Polina Hanin

Our website a aqpsearch.com. So you don't need to know how to spell Aequitas. But you can actually get in touch with me on LinkedIn. That's the easiest, easiest way is to send me a note and we can connect it and see what kind of collaboration can come from there.

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