An Interview with Derek Baird – Co-Founder and CEO of Switchboard Health

Author :
Tim Gordon

Switchboard Health helps payers, health systems, employers, and at-risk providers leverage virtual care solutions at scale.  With  their innovative technology and services, they activate people who need care, match them to the right provider, track the quality of their care, and support them across their entire care journey.

We sat down with Derek Baird, Co-Founder and CEO to learn more about his journey.

Tim: Tell us a little bit about what you’re building at Switchboard.

Derek: Well, we’re building a new type of virtual-first specialty network that makes it easier for patients to receive much needed care from specialists. We’re also trying to make it easier for at-risk providers, payers, and employers to provide and make virtual specialty care available.

This space has seen a ton of buzz and entrepreneurial activity and has a lot of potential.

At Switchboard we’re bringing many specialty groups together on one platform to make it easier for patients to receive care from them, and not have to wait inordinate amounts of time to get care, or try to find it themselves. We’ll help bring the care to them in a way that’s convenient and, in most cases, more affordable. We also provide ongoing support for anything from atrial fibrillation, to headaches, to low back pain (for dads like you and me), to cardio metabolic conditions, and everything in between. So Switchboard, as the name denotes, is a platform that pulls this all together and hopefully makes it easier and more accessible to everyone.

Tim: You’ve been in healthcare for pretty much your whole career, and have seen the industry go through a lot of cycles. Why is now the right time for Switchboard?

Derek: There’s an upside and a downside to that answer. The upside is that virtual specialty care has gained traction and these care models have developed in a way where there’s proven evidence that, for example, virtual GI clinics can provide great support with positive outcomes for patients suffering from IBD or IBS. So it’s a great time to build a cross-specialty platform like this because there are great solutions out there working in specific speciality areas. That’s good news: virtual specialty care is real.

The downside is that in many ways, specialty care is worse than it was two decades ago: it’s more costly, access has not gotten easier and wait times have worsened. And so the traditional way of doing things, which was not great two decades ago, has not improved. The old fashioned status quo is causing more frustration for providers, payers, employers, and – most importantly – patients and their families.

So in a way, I think it’s definitely the right time for Switchboard because there’s a lot of energy in finding a better way that isn’t so hard and fragmented and expensive.

Tim: When you take a step back and think about how to synthesize all this, what’s the big picture vision? If it becomes wildly successful, what is this?

Derek: The big vision is to build a big, brand new type of specialty network. We’re starting to do great work with the virtual specialty care clinics. It’s very easy to reach patients in all 50 states and the clinics are game for new types of care models and economics. They’re looking for more patients to serve, so doing this in a virtual way from the start is the right way to get going.

Long term, we see ourselves also working with provider networks, not just in the cloud, but on the ground as well.

We’re already starting our first set of partnerships with imaging centers that have good quality scores and great access and we want to start extending that to surgery centers and certain other specialty areas.

There are a lot of people who want to do the right thing and change the status quo, so that sets us up to build a new type of clinical delivery network. We can also provide care coordinators and care navigators with software, integration, and workflow tools – both in the cloud and on the ground – to help tap into that new network.

Some people want full support, so we’re also building our own care navigation and referral management capabilities, i.e. a service within Switchboard. We want to be able to fully support all of our clients from beginning to end – we want to be able to meet them where they are.

Ultimately, those are all means to an end, which is helping folks tap into a more accessible, higher value, lower cost specialty network and do it on a national scale; so it’s a big swing, but somebody has to do it. We think we’re in a good position to pull it off.

Tim: Now a little more than 6 months into it, also in your first turn as CEO, what has surprised you the most?

Derek: On a personal level, people have just been so helpful –  just great about offering help, advice, support and introductions. People have also been very generous with their time. Generally, working in digital health you get to work with a lot of great people. Particularly over the past six months, which have been turbulent for everybody, it’s been really heartening how great and supportive people have been. New company, new CEO, new adventure…so I have felt that support system kick in in a really great way. It’s always been there, but lately, folks have been fantastic.

On the business side, the biggest surprise has been that this idea and this vision is of interest to a lot of different types of organizations – anyone from at-risk provider groups, to TPAs, MCOs, commercial health plans, employers directly, and of course, the brokers who serve them. On the one hand, by and large, that’s a good thing.

Obviously then a lot of the art comes down to where we spend our time in 2023 and finding the right sequence of go-to-market, where to start and when to decide to jump to the next lily pad and how to do that without drowning in a couple of years.

The last surprise was the collapse of the most prominent venture capital banking institution in the country. Thankfully we had no direct exposure, but that’s made for an interesting couple of months.

Tim: Looking at the last 12 months, how has Switchboard been received both by the market and prospective investors?

Derek: In many ways I’m glad to be leading a company this young in 2023. A lot of the strain and challenges for digital health startups are felt by those that need to live up to their last valuation, those that have super complicated cap tables, or those that just didn’t capitalize the business in the way that they should have and are now in a bind. Thankfully, we don’t have any of those same issues as companies that are a few years further along in their journeys. That said, I think fundraising is tougher for everyone this year than it was 15 months ago. But having spent a lot of time with investors, great ideas with thoughtful plans and good execution succeed and thrive and get funded no matter which way the wind is blowing, so we just need to ground ourselves in that. If we keep listening to the market, stay curious, do well by the early clients, get the right people on the team, and just have a maniacal focus on good execution, it’ll work out. We’ll just stick with that and let all the crosswinds blow around us.

Tim: So in light of all that, how have you approached attracting the right talent early on?

Derek: There are a lot of good people hitting the market right now. Supply and demand in digital health recruiting has been horribly lopsided for years. You’ve helped me a couple of times get past that issue. And I’m not saying there’s no need for great recruiting firms like Aequitas today because it’s still hard, but there’s more talent that’s now looking for their next adventure. We’ve been fortunate, we’ve hired some great folks who weren’t part of the layoffs, but looked around to make their next move. We’ve been able to attract some really good folks, which goes back to us being a young up-and-comer and not facing some of the challenges that more mature businesses do.

I’ve also hired some great people I’ve known and trusted for many years. I haven’t known everybody, but a few of the hires are folks that I’ve known for quite a while and am doing repeated tours of duty with, and that’s a lot of fun too.

Right now a lot of it comes down to finding the culture that we want to create at Switchboard. We don’t have a 10-page manifesto on that culture but we have to figure out how to manifest that culture before we write it down. It’s modeling behavior and how we treat each other and I think that really comes out of the recruiting process. We are small enough and young enough where the cultural fit is much easier to suss out. That’s helped us get real clarity on who fits the culture and vibe that we want to build. We will need to formalize that at some point, but for now, with the early hires, it’s a little easier to attract and select the right folks who fit.

Tim: What keeps you up at night?

Derek: During the day, what fills this old school notebook that I still carry around, are all the things we’ve hit on: this all falls apart if we don’t do right by the early clients. Two months after I came on we were working with our first clients. You have to stick the landing on those. If you don’t, it sets you back a year, so that’s key. No matter how good the strategy is in the notebook, if we don’t have the right people on the team it’s all moot, so I think I underestimated how much time I would spend each day thinking about recruiting, org design, and matching people with capabilities. That’s a lot of time and brain power every single day. The last one is one I already mentioned: Switchboard is of a lot of interest to a lot of different people, so how do we turn that market interest into a sensible plan that we can actually execute on. That wears me out, so that I sleep well at night.

Tim: Is there anything else you want to leave people with?

Derek:  If you are reading this and looking for a company that is going to make a real improvement in how care is delivered, and provide support to patients, often at a vulnerable time, if that piques the interest of someone out there who’s looking for their next adventure, or one of those enterprise clients who’s reading this and thinks ‘yeah, maybe Switchboard can help me they know how to get to you, Tim, and therefore they can find a way to get to me.

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