Healthcare Rebel Alliance: Q&A with Chloe Yoo, CFO of HumanFirst

Health insurance 101
Healthcare Rebel Alliance
Healthcare industry

Chloe Yoo, CFO of HumanFirst (acquired by ICON)  is a strategic finance & operations leader with experience in management consulting, investment banking, and early-stage startups. Passionate about making a broken healthcare system better.  Most recently led the sale of HumanFirst to ICON to accelerate patient-centered clinical research.

Nick Soman, Decent: You worked as a consultant, an investment banker, and a product strategist before diving into startup operations leadership and then finance. Why did you choose what you've called a non-linear path? Looking back, what are the common threads that connect your experience?

Chloe Yoo: This is a great question – it actually took me a while to be comfortable with the non-linear career path that jumping into the startup world brings. Nonetheless, as cliché as it sounds, by far the most common thread across my experience is my bias towards action in extremely ambiguous environments. My ability to relentlessly navigate chaos to move things forward has been the common thread from consulting to investment banking, through the various stages of startups I’ve since been at, and now integrating HumanFirst with ICON.

In consulting, this translated into being comfortable getting to a “directionally correct” answer with minimal information. When I transitioned into banking, having a bias towards action enabled me to keep the ball moving on deals even when I didn’t have all the answers (basically, this meant being comfortable using a LOT of assumptions...IYKYK) As they say, finance is an art, not a science.

When I drank the San Francisco kool-aid and jumped into the startup world, I honed into the non-linear career path by starting in a “partnerships” role (which means something different everywhere, but there it was basically trying to establish stickier, higher value ways to engage with partner organizations). I quickly saw opportunities for new strategies, delivery models, and better collaboration (aka operations) between the commercial and product sides of the floor (quite literally, two sides of an office floor in Salesforce Tower pre-COVID). Despite being new, I navigated my way from partnerships, to strategy, to product manager, and back to product strategy by constantly finding pieces of the puzzle that needed to come together between commercial and product to create new solutions. Thanks to my bias towards action, I gained a significant range of experiences in a very short amount of time that vastly expanded my skillset to take on bigger, more ambiguous roles.

So, I went to lead operations as employee 3 at a seed stage company aiming to help people navigate life after 60. This was truly a “0 to 1” experience where quite literally nothing happens unless you take action to experiment with something and then refine it as you go. Said otherwise, you’re always sailing the ship as you’re building it. You’d be shocked at how much you can accomplish by setting up a scrappy operation in a Google sheet. This is where I first encountered dealing with the “red tape” that comes with trying to drive change in healthcare. I learned a ton on how to navigate these hurdles in healthcare from CEO/Founder Tim Schwartz who has time and time again shared how challenging, yet rewarding it is to drive change across the highly regulated healthcare market.

As part of our business model, I was setting up a Medicare brokerage, a key pillar of our company, and there was absolutely nothing easy about that process. Don’t get me wrong, I know there have been many regulations put into place specifically to protect patients, but when you’re a small operation trying to change massive systems run by giant companies, you’re faced with so many hurdles making it an incredibly difficult endeavor to drive change.

When I joined HumanFirst, I experienced a new realm of rapidly changing market dynamics in the life sciences space. To be honest, I was a bit intimidated joining a 15-person team with the majority of the team experts in their fields and/or coming from the clinical research world while I was still googling ‘phases of drug development’ and ‘digital biomarker’ on a regular basis. Nonetheless, I jumped in deep and quickly set up new systems and functions to drive us forward, all the way through to a successful sale to ICON earlier this year. Working alongside HumanFirst CEO Andy Coravos, we both played to our strengths – hers as a radical visionary and mine as a relentless doer to bring HumanFirst into a bigger playing field.

Nick Soman, Decent: What are the best and worst things about working in healthcare?

Chloe Yoo: Starting with the worst – patience to get through the red tape of the industry. Driving change in healthcare takes stamina – there are ups and downs, blockers and pivots. Meanwhile, you’re often working against the grain of large incumbents across healthcare, payor, and life sciences markets, many of whom are public and will be scrutinized by Wall Street for any hits to margin that could occur from investments in innovation. Look at Walmart’s recent closure of its telehealth/clinic business – one of the country’s largest employers with presence in the most underserved parts of the country, there could not be a better retailer poised to provide primary care to those who need it most. But, at the end of the day, reimbursement rates are low so the margin profile for this type of service is not sustainable to continue to operate in the space. Sad.

The best – mission-driven work – knowing that what you do day in and day out helps people and could help you or your family down the line is really rewarding. I’m particularly excited about the changes and innovation across holistic health, personalized/precision medicine, and fertility care. While at HumanFirst, now ICON, we’re working on ensuring that the measures that matter most to humans drive how we think about bringing new drugs to market — this is a really cool way to reframe how we think about healthcare – we’ve always been so focused on preventing people from dying, but what about helping them enjoy living?

Nick Soman, Decent: You recently navigated the successful sale of HumanFirst to ICON, a public company. What surprised you most about that experience?

Chloe Yoo: I’m not sure what it says about me that I actually enjoyed the rigorous sell-side process, but what surprised me the most is the realization even as the CFO/head of ops, I was still quite far from “done” when the deal was signed & closed…I then had (and still very much have!) integration. Integration of a <20 person startup into a 42,000+ person public life science services company is no easy feat. At HumanFirst, I had my pulse on every aspect of the company, which translates to over a dozen different functions across different stakeholders at ICON. When I say integration, it’s not just integrating the product – it’s the people, ways of working, culture, operations, and strategy. In some ways, it’s really nice being able to hand my legos over to entire teams focused on that one lego piece eg Finance, Sales Ops, Legal, Compliance, HR. In other ways, it’s a new challenge and ode to my common thread diving in head first, connecting a new set of dots to drive the business forward.

Nick Soman, Decent: What misconceptions about finance would you like to clear up?

Chloe Yoo: Finance isn’t as scary as it seems in the classroom! Fun fact, while at business school, when I first told my parents I was going into investment banking, they laughed. Having never taken a single finance course prior to business school (I grew up wanting to be a about non-linear) and hardly knowing what a P&L was when I started, this seemed like it was out of left field. I personally have found that most core finance can be learned on the job and/or on YouTube/Google etc. The terminology and models aren’t the hard parts – in fact, often there are templates for that.

Finance and accounting are not the same thing. There are a range of finance functions– I too associated finance at a company (vs in services like investment banking) as accounting-oriented in nature. I put finance in a box with things like “budgets, audits, cost cutting, reporting.” It’s actually a lot more strategic in nature – less about modeling and number crunching and more about understanding what levers you can pull on to make strategic decisions.

Nick Soman, Decent: Who else in healthcare inspires you, and why?

Chloe Yoo: I will speak more to companies that inspire me – as mentioned, I’m very bullish on fertility care and making it more accessible to more people whether it be through employer benefits (Carrot, Maven, Progeny) or new technologies (Conceivables, TMRW, Overture).

Obviously inspired by HumanFirst and all the companies trying to make drug development more efficient, leading to better drugs to market, faster. There’s been mixed reviews on the digital clinical trial (DCT) due to how complex in nature clinical trials are, but we have to continue to invest in ways to change the status quo and make clinical trials more inclusive and less burdensome on patients and sponsors.

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