I'm Sufian Chowdhury, the CEO & co-founder of Kinetik, a health-tech startup that has built the nation’s first digitally integrated healthcare transportation infrastructure connecting health plans, members, health systems, and transportation providers.
We created a suite of products including a Revenue Cycle Management (RCM), a consolidated billing platform, Trip Assistant, which integrates third-party dispatch systems and driver applications, and Trip Scheduler, a healthcare ride scheduling and coordination platform.
Through our products we connect all relevant medical transportation stakeholders, providing full visibility into each trip's life cycle, enhancing program transparency, improving care accessibility, and tackling fraud, waste, and abuse (FWA).
To date we've secured $27M in funding, setting the stage for the Series A launch in Q1, 2024.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The idea came to me after working in the back office of a Brooklyn-based transportation provider who needed help with his billing. I saw how fragmented the non-emergency medical transportation industry was and knew that this needed to change.
Additionally, access to care is a huge issue, requiring patients to book a medical ride at least 72 hours in advance. After witnessing these challenges, I began working with the transportation provider and my co-founders on our first product line, the Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) tool.
As Kinetik began to gain traction, I knew this was a company I wanted to dedicate my full time and attention to. After I saw the problem that transportation providers were facing when it came to billing in the non-emergency medical transportation industry, I quit my day job in healthcare consulting to focus on Kinetik.
The beginning was the most challenging time of building the company. Finding the right employees, bootstrapping Kinetik on my funds, and trying to sell into a non-digitized market was nearly impossible.
It was challenging to find the right people. We burned through a ton of money (over $80,000 out of my own savings) and almost failed altogether. But we didn't give up. We pivoted as needed, and we made it through the challenging times.
I knew this company would be successful because I followed this philosophy: There are two types of people in this world - One who sees a problem and complains and one who sees a problem and then makes a list of possible solutions. The latter are the people who will change this world and who I strive to be.
For 18-plus years now, I’ve carried a journal around with me and jot down every challenge I encounter. Then, I write out ideas for potential solutions. This practice is actually how I thought of the concept for Kinetik. I ALWAYS got stuck in traffic behind buses.
To solve this headache, I wrote down an idea for integration with a GPS that would notify me if a large bus or truck blocked traffic during my route. I took this idea to a friend in the transportation industry, and we pivoted the idea and technology quite a bit…but the principle remains that everything in this world is solvable.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
Kinetik was founded around six years ago by myself and my two co-founders (see below). It all began when a friend reached out to me for help with a database related to insurance claims. Little did I know, that this initial interaction would uncover a major gap in the non-emergency medical transportation industry—a lack of digitization, data, and visibility.
The first issue we realized was that local transport companies struggled with billing procedures for services covered by insurance companies like Medicaid and Medicare Advantage. This realization prompted us to embark on a journey to build the industry's first Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) platform. For the next 12 months, I sat in the back offices of taxi and transportation companies to understand the industry and its problems.
We focused on streamlining billing processes for transport companies dealing with multiple payors. The RCM platform allowed them to submit claims to multiple payors at once rather than manually submitting each payor’s set of claims. Furthermore, the RCM tool allowed them to submit claims in minutes rather than hours. It turned a task that used to require a 40-hour work week into a few minutes per day. This was a game-changer for the industry.
As our company grew, we began to partner with ride-sharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to continue enhancing access to care. After the major success of our RCM platform, we began to build the Trip Assistant and Trip Scheduler platforms, allowing health plans to schedule rides and send them to transportation providers to dispatch said rides.
With Kinetik’s suite of products, the NEMT industry seamlessly connected for the first time. Our next product line in development is the Member Application. We envision a day when patients can open the mobile application and request a healthcare ride in real-time, irrespective of their level of service. This has never been done.
Instead of just chasing dollars, which is a trap many fall into, it's all about finding your "why." This "why" becomes your motivation, pushing you to keep moving forward despite any challenges.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We launched our first product surely and slowly. It took us 5 years to get 50 customers, and then everything exploded. Following that, we began obtaining hundreds of new customers each month. The initial customers were the hardest to get. To close our first customer at Kinetik, we spent a year with them, building a relationship and truly understanding their pain points, with no commitment.
When building a company or having an idea, we often think it's a big problem. But truthfully, the world doesn’t care. When you come across a problem and start thinking about it, you get ingrained into the whole world of seeing it through your eyes. But you forget that is not how the potential customer is looking at it.
My biggest mistake was solely focusing on one customer and seeing the issue from their perspective. The next year, I ventured off and met with about a dozen other customers and started seeing the problem from a wider lens.
One of the missed opportunities was building the product solely from the perspective of one customer rather than a wide variety of perspectives.
I realized that all of our current customers were only in the state of New York. But, other states would have different perspectives and pain points. If I were to do it again, I would find 5 customers in all different states around the country and learn from each of them individually.
After a bit of time, our customer base finally began to grow, with 35 customers and one product line. Then, in 2020, COVID-19 hit. Healthcare rides (dialysis, disabilities, etc.) took a massive hit - rideshares were down 70%. At this time, we had a team of 10-12 employees, all engineers.
I was running operations/marketing/sales/business and cold-calling potential customers. During these calls, customers would simply tell me that they didn’t need the RCM tool. This gave me time to pivot, go back to investors, and sell a bigger vision of building a holistic end-to-end solution.
When COVID subsided, ride volumes grew again and allowed us to gain customer traction once again. My goal at this point was to keep the company alive and sell investors on the long-term vision. Today, we have a grander mission and we are better because of the hardships we had to go through.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
To attract customers, we started locally and focused on our home state of NY. We met the people where they are, attended conferences, sponsored and supported local organizations, and really created relationships.
Now, we are replicating this strategy in California as some of our team members relocate to be on the ground floor with our customers. We want to ensure that we are hearing our customers' problems directly from them rather than trying to guess what they want. This has been the best strategy for our team.
As for retaining customers, we pride ourselves on our customer experience, which offers live support and dedicated account managers to ensure that our customers are satisfied with our products and services while also giving them space to provide us with feedback.
In addition to our customer experience team, we offer a plethora of online resources, including a blog with industry news, social media that shares up-to-date information about NEMT, and in-depth content such as case studies (see below), whitepapers, and informational articles that provide our customers with the knowledge regarding how to operate their NEMT businesses best.
Attracting and retaining customers is not only directed toward relationship building. We also are very specific with our marketing strategy and brand. This includes brainstorming content for social media, content marketing, strategic partnerships, and email campaigns.
We're currently in the process of developing an entirely new website that will serve as a hub for hosting insightful blogs, sharing press releases, and disseminating industry news (see below).
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are looking forward to hitting profitability in the next 12-18 months! Our journey has been made possible by raising $27 million in funding thus far in preparation for our Series A launch in Q1, 2024.
One of our priorities right now is focusing on increasing brand awareness and marketing, including our social media presence. Our current LinkedIn following is 3,871, to reach 4,000 followers in Q3, 2023 through entirely organic traffic (see below). Kinetik's content engagement has also been increasing, with over 1,500 likes, comments, and shares.
Most importantly, our dedication to workplace excellence has been recognized through the acquisition of 8 company awards, including Inc's Magazine Best Workplaces 2023, Great Place to Work Certification, and Brightest & The Best Company to Work For.
The team's focus in the next few months is the successful launch and distribution of the Member App across the nation. In addition to developing additional product lines, we look forward to growing our team and culture as well. We're proud to say that the Kinetik team is worldwide, with employees based all around the United States, Serbia, and Bangladesh.
In the long term, we envision a future where anyone, regardless of their location, can seamlessly request real-time medical transportation for their essential appointments. As we continue to build our suite of products, we are excited to see the impact that our company will have on improving access to care and addressing social determinants of health.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
My journey at Kinetik has been an incredible learning experience. While I strive to always make the right decisions, I have made mistakes and learned from them. One of the missed opportunities was building the product solely from the perspective of one customer rather than a wide variety of perspectives.
Another challenge was the state-focused approach, resulting in a delayed understanding of varying customer needs across the country. COVID blindsided us, causing a drop in ride volumes but prompted a pivot towards a more holistic solution, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Of course, there have also been big wins along the way as well! When we were just starting out, I invested $10,000 from our limited bank account (we only had $30,000 in the bank at the time) to become a major sponsor of a healthcare transportation conference.
Although this was an incredibly risky move, it opened significant doors and paved the way for future opportunities. Working with Lyft, Uber, and other major industry players played a crucial role in expanding our presence in the industry, and I’m proud to have spearheaded those partnerships.
While many parts of creating a business are within our control, many aspects are not. For example, timing. I’ve learned how much tenacity it requires to build a startup and the importance of never letting go of our mission, even when your timing is not lining up. These lessons guide me in overcoming obstacles. I constantly ask myself the question, "Who will solve this problem if it’s not us?”. That’s what keeps me going.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We have many tools at Kinetik that help us create an efficient and incredible work environment. Slack stands out as the communication hub at Kinetik, especially for connecting our global teams. I love using Slack because it creates a sense of community and camaraderie, even if you don’t live on the same continent.
Notion, a versatile workspace, and note-taking tool, fosters efficient teamwork and knowledge sharing. We use Notion to keep track of our employee resources, operational processes, and cross-departmental notes. In addition to Notion, many of our departments have implemented the project management tool, ClickUp. ClickUp has been fantastic in keeping our teams on track with their projects while collaborating with colleagues on different teams.
The most engaging platform by far is Nectar, a tool that strengthens our company culture. Nectar is a platform specifically used for recognizing and rewarding the contributions of our colleagues. You can share “points” with each other for accomplishing tasks throughout the day and these points can be redeemed for actual gifts such as company swag, gift boxes, or credit to your favorite stores.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Two incredibly influential books that have shaped me are How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. These books have provided me with invaluable insights into interpersonal relationships, personal development, and how to create a growth mindset.
While these books have played a pivotal role, it's important to highlight that the most profound impact on my career has come from three of my mentors: Barry Peters, Tom Turner, and Jim Bellinson. Their mentorship, support, and expertise have collapsed my learning curve by decades. Since day one, their guidance has been foundational in my growth as an entrepreneur.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Succeeding in the world of entrepreneurship isn't just about business. It's about diving headfirst into something you're truly passionate about. It's finding that thing that gets you out of bed even when the going gets tough. Instead of just chasing dollars, which is a trap many fall into, it's all about finding your "why." This "why" becomes your motivation, pushing you to keep moving forward despite any challenges.
The next best piece of advice that I can share is about how to avoid burnout. To avoid burnout at Kinetik, I made sure that my co-founders and leaders at the company learned about what I valued as a leader so they could emulate that in their leadership style. Our values at Kinetik are “Be Curious,” “Be Collaborative,” and “Be Just,” and I wanted to make sure that I implemented these values in our company’s culture.
This mindset helped create a strong company culture built on genuine values. When company culture is strong, employees feel valued, heard, and appreciated and in turn, they will work hard and be loyal. This sense of culture is what helps me avoid burnout.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are hiring for a variety of roles at Kinetik! Check out our open positions.
Where can we go to learn more?
Here is our website.
Below are my socials - I’m most active on LinkedIn. Check it out:
Here are Kinetik’s socials:
Thank you for reading and learning more about Kinetik and our journey!
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