Gregor Hoffman (Head of Commercial Strategy at Tempest)
Tempest: A female-founded, modern recovery program helping individuals quit drinking and live healthier lives.
Guest: Gregor Hoffman
Role: Head of Commercial Strategy at Tempest
What is Tempest?: Tempest is a female-founded, modern recovery program that helps individuals quit drinking and be healthier. Having raised over $10M in funding from firms including Maveron, Female Founders Fund, and Alumni Ventures Group, Tempest is leading a revolutionary new digital recovery platform.
Prior Roles + Education: Prior to Tempest, Gregor attended Macalester College, where he got his BA in Community & Global Health. After that, he went on to be the 1st hire at 1DocWay and later the Head of Sales at Genoa Healthcare Telepsychiatry (Special thanks to Samir Malik for the introduction).
Final Note: The interview took place via a call between Gregor and Lukas Steinbock (Co-Founder at The Takeoff) in May.
We hope you enjoy today’s Edition.
The Takeoff’s favorite quotes from the interview:
On getting things done at a startup: “Whether you have a guidebook or not, you learn by doing.”
On working at a startup: “I wouldn’t advise someone to go into this without passion, and I think the encouragement to work in the startup space needs to be tempered with someone’s willingness to fail.”
On Tempest: “Our mission is to put people at the center of their recovery. We’re doing this by building a modern, digital solution for those struggling with alcohol, but it’s really part of this bigger vision to be the world’s most effective, ubiquitous, and loved recovery solution.”
More on Tempest: “Tempest is a modern, female-founded business. We take more of a harm-reduction approach where we meet people where they’re at, put them at the center of their recovery, and help them achieve their own goals.”
On bringing up alcohol issues with employers: “For example, would you ask your professor for an extension on a paper in the same sentence that you say, ‘I’m going to go to rehab?’ Granted, professors may be a bit more supportive because you’re not an employee who might be a liability, but I think a lot of people are hesitant to bring up the topic with employers.”
On using LinkedIn to land a job: “After that, I didn’t have connections in the health technology space. I had an undergraduate degree in the area, so I just reached out cold on LinkedIn. Sometimes it’s a numbers game. I happened to get connected to one of the first companies I applied to, but at other points, I’ve done a more exhaustive search of hundreds of companies.”
“In our workforce, everything is an open-book test. It’s about getting the best answers we can externally, but internally, it’s about learning and getting things done quickly.”
Lukas: First, I would love to hear more about your background and your journey from first hire at 1DocWay to Tempest.
Gregor: Yeah, I can start with a bit of my background. In my experience with joining a company early, it can be both fast and slow whether you’re a founder or first employee. The daily grind can involve most aspects of running a business. , When 1DocWay’s founder Samir and first met, we walked into a Staples, to ship a computer to a psychiatrist, and started “dialing for dollars” from a coworking space. We didn’t have any customers, we looked at a Google Map of clinics and started at “A”. We just tried to do things by doing them.
I think that’s indicative of the approach of early employees and founders. They err on the side of action. Whether you have a guidebook or not, you learn by doing. A lot of that experience isn’t from a classroom. I think I got a lot from my undergrad experience studying community and global health, but much of what I learned on the job is more relevant to your listeners.
Lukas: That’s certainly in line with what we believe at The Takeoff. Super interesting backstory. I’m wondering, what got you passionate about the problem of alcohol recovery? It’s certainly something that I am passionate about as well.
Gregor: I think there is a little more awareness about it now than right when I was out of college. I became more aware of the challenges of alcohol recovery — and substance abuse disorder recovery in general — through family and behavioral health. Prior to going deeper into the alcohol addiction recovery space, I was involved in “behavioral health” that is mental health and addiction. I also had a family member who had, and still has, a severe and persistent mental illness, so it was something I was aware of. When I was looking for what to do after college and met the founders of 1DocWay, I had both psychiatrists and people with psychiatric illnesses in the family, so from a personal perspective, it just resonated with me as an opportunity to do something that was interesting from a few angles.
It does require passion, some luck, and a lot of support along the way. When our Series A check hit the bank, I ran out of savings and was wondering which family member to bug first about borrowing rent money. It was a close call and we were checking the bank every day. I wouldn’t advise someone to go into this without passion, and I think the encouragement to work in the startup space needs to be tempered with someone’s willingness to fail. However many risks you take on, there can be many rewards, but you might not necessarily succeed.
Lukas: That’s super interesting. What is the mission of Tempest?
Gregor: Our mission is to put people at the center of their recovery. We’re doing this by building a modern, digital solution for those struggling with alcohol, but it’s really part of this bigger vision to be the world’s most effective, ubiquitous, and loved recovery solution.
Lukas: Great, I love the mission. I feel like there are lots of different kinds of customers when it comes to alcohol recovery. There are casual drinkers looking to stop and those struggling with more serious addictions. Is Tempest for one, the other, or both, and how do you differentiate between these communities of customers?
Gregor: Tempest is for everybody. Typically, the way that public health communities and investors analyze the population is to look at people who meet the clinical criteria for alcohol use disorder, and then those who have drinking problems and are at risk for developing alcohol use disorder. However, it’s a continuum, and it’s a ten-year journey from when someone first develops symptoms to when they are sick enough that they will seek care themselves. We often think of the “severe” category as people who are in rehab, but from a clinical perspective, most people who are seeking care would have been classified as having a problem and in need of medical or clinical attention ten years prior. So, Tempest is for everyone. We’re also for people who are trying to change their relationship in any way, or those who have already done so and want to be part of a community.
Lukas: I feel like most of the public exposure to alcohol recovery is the twelve-step program and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). How does Tempest differ from AA, aside from its digital format?
Gregor: We actually just passed the founding birthday of AA, which was back in June of 1935. Tempest is a modern, female-founded business. We take more of a harm-reduction approach where we meet people where they’re at, put them at the center of their recovery, and help them achieve their own goals. There are not twelve steps and there are no requirements around abstinence. Tempest is more spiritual than religious. Our goal is to be inclusive of everyone. I will say there are a lot of people that benefit from AA, so we encourage everyone to find a comprehensive toolkit for their recovery. Tempest takes a different format and approach, so there are people who recover solely with Tempest but also those who include AA as part of their journey.
Lukas: Now, I’d love to talk about the go-to-market approach for telehealth companies. How does Tempest look at the various options that exist in the space, whether it be direct-to-employer, direct-to-consumer, or to health plans. What are your thoughts on the various go-to-market strategies?
Gregor: One of the reasons I was excited to join Tempest is because it took a different approach. It started as direct-to-consumer and made something that people loved enough to pay for out-of-pocket, when most of their healthcare is free. The first couple of years, we wanted to not just find something that people liked, but something that was clinically effective. So, we started gathering data on that.
The go-to-market strategy for a lot of companies in this space is to use an anchor employer for clinical validation and provide added benefits to the employer for free, rather than the large employer paying out-of-pocket for something more innovative. Tempest is taking a more accelerated approach by going directly to consumers to gather data on how effective our solution is. Through our digital platform, we’ve helped people achieve abstinence without requiring the side effects of medication.
So, we started with a direct-to-consumer approach. Now, we’re considering which health plans to partner with on both the national and regional levels. We also need to figure out exactly how to target the populations they have that are in need of the Tempest platform. Some of these health plans are just health insurance, some also have a sister health system, and so Tempest is taking a flexible approach, trying to skip some of the employers. We’ve seen with COVID-19 that a lot of the health plans are making changes and shortening the sales cycle. We’ll see if that sticks after COVID-19. There may be a new normal there in terms of how health companies go to market on the telemedicine side.
Lukas: In terms of selling to employers, are you faced with a challenge of stigma? For example, employees don’t want their employers to know that they’re trying to quit drinking, even if they’re not full-blown alcoholics.
Gregor: Yes, it’s an issue we’ve seen where employers don’t necessarily talk about it. There are few lenses through which they see drinking. People are on this endless and expensive quest for wellness, and you see this in employer benefits like yoga classes and class passes.
Yet, people are drinking rocket fuel, ethanol, to the point where they are dying. Now that we’re working at home, there’s definitely a change in drinking culture. The way that employers are looking at drinking often refers to the liability during a holiday party as opposed to the overall health and wellness of their team. Since they often don’t have the data on health, they address the problems that they see.
It’s hard for an employer to take a leap and spend money on something that they suspect is there but can’t necessarily prove. For example, would you ask your professor for an extension on a paper in the same sentence that you say, “I’m going to go to rehab”? Granted, professors may be a bit more supportive because you’re not an employee who might be a liability, but I think a lot of people are hesitant to bring up the topic with employers.
Therefore, employees either deal with it on their own or brush it under the carpet. However, almost everyone I know or I’ve talked to has a family member who has dealt with this, to the point where they can’t hide the issue anymore.
Until now, employers have not had the right solution. I think our next step with employers is getting the right data on how Tempest is used in their employee base. They may not see that there’s a problem, but the use of Tempest indicates a need.
Lukas: Looking at some issues in the healthcare system, generally speaking there’s a lack of a marketspace to explore alternative healthcare solutions for employers. I would love to hear your thoughts on why this is the case and what’s stopping us from solving this problem.
Gregor: I think the marketplace question is a great one. There are some companies that are more like a coalition or a broker, and that’s the closest that we’ve come. On the broker platform side, there’s Virgin Pulse, and you need to have a certain amount of traction to get into their platform. On the coalition side, there’s the Business Group On Health or the Employer Health Innovation Roundtable. We’re working on bridging this gap in the lack of a marketplace, but it’s tricky.
There are problem areas, such as alcohol addiction, that don’t fall neatly into how problems have been measured and the budgets attached to them. It’s hard to create a marketplace when each solution is being measured across a different problem area and a different budget type. Essentially, there are some structural issues there.
Lukas: That makes sense, it’s certainly a tough question. Moving on to advice-related questions: what advice do you have for students entering today’s job market, speaking from your experience?
Gregor: My first job out of college was actually in Yellowstone National Park. I led trips and did something that I was passionate about. After that, I didn’t have connections in the health technology space. I had an undergraduate degree in the area, so I just reached out cold on LinkedIn. Sometimes it’s a numbers game. I happened to get connected to one of the first companies I applied to, but at other points, I’ve done a more exhaustive search of hundreds of companies. If you follow the money and look at which venture capitalists are funding which companies, and check out their portfolios, the companies are always looking for good talent. If you can find those aggregators, it’s a little bit more time-efficient.
Another piece of advice is to network and build relationships with employers, rather than going in and asking for a job upfront. It’s a good way to stand out amidst all the cold job applications out there.
Not to throw my college career counselor under the bus, and it may have been due to the types of hobbies I said I was interested in, but when I was asking for good long-term career paths that could help pay off my student loans, I was advised to sell canoes in northern Minnesota. With the hourly rate for that job, I don’t think I ever would have paid off my loans. I will say, it’s good to have those dialogues with college career counselors, whether they point you to investment banking, consulting, or canoe selling. It’s also great to have those conversations with friends and classmates and family.
Lukas: What do you look for in new hires, whether it be at Tempest or more generally? Are there any key attributes or skills you’re looking for?
Gregor: Yes. In addition to the responsibilities and qualifications, you might be a good fit if you get excited and empowered by a mission-driven for-profit company and you’re a good teammate and team player. Being a hustler is good, for example, the type of person who feels like they should start a podcast. Also, if you’re someone who can balance big-picture vision with real attention to detail, I think those things are both really important.
One thing that is a major difference between my school and work experience is that we’re not looking for people who aren’t trying to get an A on the first draft, but are willing to start sharing when something is at a C level. In our workforce, everything is an open-book test. It’s about getting the best answers we can externally, but internally, it’s about learning and getting things done quickly. Multiple drafts is definitely encouraged. It’s a fun part of collaborating.
Lukas: Lastly, on a personal level, how do you stay mentally fit given the high demands of your job?
Gregor: Well, I’d say, not showing up to work hungover makes it a lot easier [[laughes]]. My routine involves walking the dog, running or cycling every day, camping or hiking on weekends, and baking a lot of sourdough bread. We’ve also been fortunate enough to have a yoga instructor living in the house, so I’ve been getting whipped into shape there. Normally, I belong to a gym in Brooklyn, but these aren’t normal times so I miss that a lot. I’d also encourage therapy. There are a lot of good resources out there, and feel free to reach out and I’d be happy to help people navigate to whatever most fits their needs.
Lukas: Great! Thank you so much Gregor!
Gregor: Thank you!
Thanks for reading! We hope you learned a lot from Gregor.
** Please note that our interviews may be edited for length, content, and clarity **
I’m on Twitter @lukassteinbock 👋