It Took 'A Thousand 0.1% Improvements' For ZocDoc To Work

ZocDoc co-founders Oliver Kharraz, Nick Ganju and Cyrus Massoumi

Photo: ZocDoc

It’s been five years since ZocDoc broke into the market.Though the appointment-booking site now has a billion-dollar valuation with a most recent Series C funding from Goldman Sachs, the founders had no idea the company would gain any traction early on.

In fact, things looked pretty bleak in the early stages.

We recently caught up with Oliver Kharraz, COO and one of the company’s co-founders, about how the company got up and off the ground. 

It famously started when CEO Cyrus Massoumi was on a flight, ruptured his eardrum and was unable to find a doctor in New York for days. He was working with Kharraz at McKinsey at the time, and over lunch the two brainstormed how this problem could be solved.

“Doctors have last-minute cancellations all the time,” Kharraz told us. “But there was clearly no efficient marketplace to discover which ones were available. 10 to 20 per cent of patients cancel or are no-shows on any given day, and yet other patients are waiting for up to 21 days to actually see doctors. We had initial conversations with thousands of doctors about this problem.” 

They launched in 2007, and “at first, we had neither liquidity or demand. It was very hard to make this work; it was by no means an easy business. We had to make sure transactions went over well. We were unsure if we were even right about this.” 

The struggle was convincing an entire industry — medical professionals — that it was worth their time and effort to switch over to a whole new system of doing things. They had to create demand for their product.

“We knew it was going to be a hard challenge to migrate people away from existing systems,” he says. The solution was allowing doctors to “continue with the existing work flow, and make us do the work by integrating the systems.”

Dr. Perry Sexton was one of the first doctors to sign up with ZocDoc. “I’m now averaging five new patients a month,” he told us. “Doctors are in an old-school mentality, where patients come in to deal with problems from the past 4,5,6 months. I keep up with patients. I’ll come into my office an hour or two early every morning to answer emails and keep up a blog.”

ZocDoc has had around 30 to 40 per cent growth every month, says Kharraz, and the key has been making micro changes ever since the launch — “thousands of 0.1 per cent improvements.”

And right now Kharraz says they’re staying focused on perfecting the current model and expanding. “Healthcare is such a big field with so many big problems, it’s very easy for us to get distracted. We want to do one thing exceedingly well, so until we’ve really succeeded in solving this problem 100 per cent, we’ll stick to what we’re doing today, and roll out the service across America.”

Now tour ZocDoc’s cool office >

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