A profile of Wellist's founder, Ashley Reid, by Shelagh Braley of @founderswire
Female Founder of the Week (FFoW) is a weekly celebration of the women who are building business in Boston.
Wellist founder Ashley Reid has been chosen for her compassion and drive, providing access to the support services that heal, improve delivery and lower the cost of health care.
BOSTON—When Wellist CEO Ashley Reid was strategy director for Phillips Healthcare, a ton of data came across her desk highlighting one point: “40 percent of patient outcomes are tied to unmet social needs.”
But it didn’t hit home until she went to a hospital herself, and tested the system. She went to the receptionist and asked for help getting a ride home. “I was directed to a hallway, where I picked brochures for an hour. I then made calls for four hours,” Reid says. “Four hours.”
At the end of all that, she still didn’t have a ride.
So Wellist began to form in her mind: a web/mobile platform that helps hospitals and payers connect their patients to support resources they need in their most vulnerable times, and also gives friends and family a way to provide substantial help from wherever they are, near or far.
Reid sits at a conference table at Wellist HQ, her hands folded in front of her, talking about patient outcomes like someone who sees suffering and solutions rather than customers and dollar signs. Her compassion is as clear as her industry insight.
“There’s a lot of suffering with chronic conditions and things like cancer that we’ll never really be able to address, but getting a rideshouldn’t be one of them,” Reid says with composed outrage. “Getting your laundry done shouldn’t be one of them. It just became this thing I could not not do.”
But first she had to find the business model. She says she looked critically at economic value spaces and health outcomes, “which really means, where can you build a solid, profitable business at the intersection of where patients heal and get better.”
Knowing firsthand the heartbreak, fear and practical obstacles to care helped Reid hone the idea. Her mother is a breast cancer survivor, “so I actually understand some of the real limitations that women face post-treatment.” Her best friend’s father also died of leukemia. “She went into preterm labor within 24 hours of his passing,” she says quietly. “I really know how difficult life can be in these moments.” It’s not easy to share the personal stories, but they fuel her drive to find solutions for others.
“We spend a lot of time vetting and curating the list of what services are available. A good example is an amazing organization called Cleaning for a Reason. If you’re a breast cancer patient, they will come in and clean your house four times.”
Reid chronicles the vision through which Wellist, founded in 2014, makes life easier for patients and their families while helping hospitals and payers become more accountable for patient outcomes and satisfaction.
“Our best partners—and we’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with MGH’s cancer center, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in the areas of oncology, primary care and gerontology—wake up every day and just say ‘how do I do what’s right by these patients, how do I make their lives easier, as they’re fighting for their lives?’ ”
“There are so many resources in health care that are oriented toward cutting-edge medicine, but there are really very limited tools in terms of how clinicians can deliver compassionate care,” she continues. “They’re looking for ways to improve their patient satisfaction or experience and are looking for improvements in outcomes.”
When they took the tool to market, the actual need overwhelmed them. “We were incredibly lucky to bootstrap with a contract from MGH,” Reid says. Her goal was to get 3 to 5 percent of patients to use the tool. “We thought, if 3 to 5 percent of their patients came on, there would be a huge ROI for that institution,” she said.
“So last summer, we started to see an increase (in user acquisition). First it was 5 percent, then 10 percent of their patients, then it was 14 percent, 17 percent. By the time it hit 25 percent of their patients using Wellist last September, we knew we were able to add something of value as a partner.”
Reid describes their average users as “primarily women over the age of 40, coming in as either the patient themselves or as a caregiver, typically for a parent or spouse.” Most are in the Boston area, but Wellist now can accommodate anyone in the country looking for support. Among the most popular needs are home cleaning, acupuncture, fitness, meal delivery, massage—“and so many are directly tied to survivorship outcomes and long-term wellness.”
“If you can’t get a ride, you’re not going to get your infusion. If you don’t have the right food in your fridge, you’re going to end up back in the ER, right?” she asked. “And so all of these things become barriers to critical care. If we can address the social determinants of health effectively, then we increase the likelihood that patients will get better and we’ll lower the cost of care.”
Wellist has now curated more than 3,500 services. “We have an amazing team,” Reid says. “I am blown away by the talent and the commitment and the creativity of the people who have shown up to make this possible. It is incredibly humbling.”
The platform also provides a means for remote loved ones to offer help. “Wellist also offers Wellistry, like a gift registry. So instead of not knowing what you can do that helps, you can actually buy laundry service. What a gift that is,” Reid says. “It allows people to ask for what they really need, because what our data shows is that people need their homes cleaned. But you can’t ask your best friend, ‘Will you come in and wash my dishes?’ We’re never eager to ask our friends for charity. But at the same time, if my best friend were sick, I don’t want to write her a $100 check, I want to do something that is tangible.”
As a strategist, Reid says the business case intrigues her because the substitute for Wellist is almost non-existent. “Anything you do is almost better. The substitutes (for our product) for these patients don’t exist, they’re a bunch of brochures on a wall or on a table in a waiting room, or it’s a friend who might’ve had something similar five years ago—what did she use? There’s no way for these patients to compare cost and quality, or even know whom they should ask,” she says.
“It’s not a huge hurdle to get something that is better, that there is also a market for. That said, we’re reaching people in their most vulnerable moments. We have this incredible obligation to deliver something with excellence.”
Wellist is starting to venture into “different condition states,” Reid says. “We started in oncology, and we are now supporting patients in gerontology and primary care, but our pipeline includes everything from maternity to transplants. We’re really excited to understand how we can tackle this for different people in different phases.”
That excitement has resounded with a bevvy of experienced, passionate investors, who have boosted Wellist’s team and coffers. The company oversubscribed its most recent round of funding at $2.2M. “With our revenues ahead of plan, we’re funded into 2017. It’s really nice to spend a year growing a business.”
The team that has shown up to help is a diverse and spirited group, collaborating over code at shared desks in the modest but classic brick-walled Broad Street office. The team mascot, Linus, Reid’s black Labrador retriever, takes turns sitting at their feet and greeting in-coming workers and guests.
“It definitely feels different now,” Reid reflects. “Our most important recruiting screen is ‘Do you feel deeply, personally passionateabout improving the lives of patients and their families?’ Because there are a lot of people looking to work for a hot startup. They should not apply to Wellist,” she says. “People who are successful here are eager to solve the very specific problem that we tackle.
“Because of that, and because so many of us have some personal story, it creates this really special culture that is unique in my experience,” Reid says, looking over at the team talking and laughing, working after dark on a Friday night.
“We are going to get as big as we can. There is a huge opportunity for how the system can deliver compassionate care, and as long as there are partners who want to do that, we will rise to the occasion to give them what they need.”