The Atoms Spotlight - What Onco did in its first 100 days after funding

Sairam Krishnan
Marketer in Residence, Accel
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Onco.com is a first of its kind platform that provides personalised cancer advice to its patients. The startup, founded in 2017 by Rashie Jain and Dr Amit Jotwani, manages end to end care by first connecting patients to relevant treatment centers, doctors and labs and also provides a holistic solution to their medical problems. 

The aim of Onco was to solve the problem of information asymmetry for cancer patients and their caregivers in India through technology.

As part of Atoms, we wanted to figure out from Rashie what they did in their first 100 days after funding.

Idea to Inception

The seed of Onco was sown while Rashie was doing her management studies in healthcare management at Wharton. While there, Rashie also got the opportunity to meet numerous healthcare startup founders in the Bay area and to do a couple of internships.

The idea of building a healthtech specifically for cancer patients came about because of a personal experience. She experienced the information gap firsthand when one of her family members was diagnosed with cancer. She recalls that though they were connected with really good doctors, they could never get all the answers they needed. Navigating all the information was very challenging. She saw a huge need to get tech enabled intervention to solve this for cancer patients and their families in India. 

Rashie was introduced to her co-founder Dr. Amit Jotwani, while she was still at Wharton and toying with the idea of starting Onco. Dr. Amit was at that time doing his executive MBA at ISB. Being an oncologist himself Amit could relate to the problem, and soon a plan was coming together.

The backstory 

The journey began by talking to patients, their caregivers, connecting with doctors in the USA, collecting information and figuring pain points. The founders knew that this journey was going to evolve along the way. 

The founders were slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together and wanted to be sure of what they were building, have a concrete product, a proper business plan and traction before they started thinking about funding and scale. They took about 9 to 10 months to do this.

In late 2016, Rashie and Dr Amit finally started talking to VCs. By then Onco was serving 15 to 20 paying customers a month.

The funding and 100 days after

Eventually Onco raised $7million in a Series A round funded by Accel, Chiratae Ventures and Dream Incubator in September of 2019.

Rashie and Dr Amit were in no rush to take the business off the ground before getting a solid footing. The goal was clear: getting the first paying customer was the goal in the first three months, and worked backward to achieve that. Rashie shares that in the first few months 30% of her time went into talking to patients, understanding their needs, and connecting with doctors. 

The other important part was to build a website. The website and what it conveyed to the patients were of paramount importance, as that would be the first pitch to the customers on what they were doing, and why should a customer try them out. And that was followed by discussing and finalising a company vision, a vision that would define the core of Onco.

Rashie then moved on to building a team and hiring the right kind of people who would not just create the product and expand the company, but also set the right culture alongside the founders. 

The first one was to hire a CTO to actually build this healthtech platform they were envisioning. Rashie recalls tapping into her IIT network to find the suitable candidate, finally having Varun Sharma join as the CTO. Rashie also recalls hiring for two key positions which she feels are often overlooked when you are in a mad rush to build and get started and grow: finance controller and head of human resources. 

Though counter intuitive, Rashie knew that the finance head and HR head are actually two lifelines of the company. She needed the, to take the initial load of compliance, hiring, and a lot more off her shoulders so she could then just focus on building the product.

And all this was happening for Onco even before the money hit their accounts. They started onboarding hires right after the term sheets were signed. And as they looked for an office space for the team, they used Accel’s startup space, the Launchpad.

What Onco could have done differently

Rashie also has a few things she would have done differently, one of them being hiring a customer facing resource, someone who could talk to customers all the time. Rashie ended up doing that, but thinks it would have been way more effective had that hire been made right at the beginning. The first hundred or two hundred customers are really important, she adds, that feedback is gold. Everything that your product should do and should not do lies in those interviews, she says.

She feels that a lot of first time founders look at short term goals and the ways to achieve them, but she suggests spending time on long term goals and getting a solid foundation. A lot of decisions at the start can actually shape the future, so she highly recommends thinking through some of those decisions like which CRM to go with.

One thing she wants to draw attention to is the cultural values Onco built up and what that meant for the company. Rashie and Dr. Amit brainstormed and came up with 8 core cultural values that Onco wanted to have and since then, they have only hired people in sync with those values. Another hiring strategy they went with was to hire people with a few years of experience under them and not complete freshers. This helped them build out each function independently and with a solid footing. Only then did they hire people under these leaders to carry on the job. Looking back, Rashie feels that this strategy has helped the company have clear cut organizational goals and KRAs.

Onco has grown rapidly, with 1500 plus Oncologists from India and the US, 500 plus treatment centers, and a pan-Indian network of diagnostic labs at affordable prices, enabling patients beyond metros and tier I cities to get the information and treatments that they need.

In many ways, Onco’s first 100 days after funding have helped them get where they are today, and hold several lessons for early stage startups.

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