How healthcare startup Sesame is trying something completely new to bring down costs
Sesame wants to be the Expedia of the healthcare market
April 11, 2019
At WeWork Dumbo Heights, overlooking the Manhattan Bridge, there’s a company that’s trying to reinvent the way healthcare is bought and sold. Its cofounder, Mike Botta, is Brooklyn born and bred. Before the interview, he pointed out the wallpaper of the WeWork conference room - featuring Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park, where he proposed to his wife. We caught up with him to hear about how his company, Sesame, is trying to make healthcare simpler and more accessible.
Downtown Brooklyn Partnership: Mike, tell us about yourself.
Mike Botta: I’m one of the cofounders of Sesame. I’m a health economist by training. I studied at Harvard Medical School, then went to McKinsey & Company, and after that I helped build Sesame.
DBP: Can you give us the rundown on what Sesame is?
MB: Sesame, at its core, is something that hasn’t existed before, which is a discount healthcare services marketplace. Anything that’s not emergency, that doesn’t require getting in an ambulance or staying over at the hospital, we can provide on the platform. So that’s primary care appointments, strains and sprains, colds and flus, seeing any kind of specialist - be it an orthopedic surgeon, a cardiologist, to diagnostics and imaging. Essentially, we want to bring what has been really effective about yield management in the travel industry to healthcare, and help doctors make the most of their time.
DBP: What was the problem you saw? And how does your company solve it?
MB: We’re a two-sided marketplace, so think about the problems on both sides. If you’re a patient, healthcare is really expensive. Whether you have insurance or not, when most people go to the doctor, they brace for impact. Maybe you call around to find out where you can get a better cash price but there’s no real organized way to do that right now. If you’re a doctor, you get three to four cancellations a day and oftentimes that’s just revenue lost to you. Also, many physicians just don’t fill up their schedule every day and they’d love to have a way to bring more patients into the door, but they don’t really have a cost-effective marketing channel for the specific thing they’re doing. A lot of doctors are finding now that patients who have historically had really good insurance are all of a sudden having plans with higher and higher deductibles, and are responsible for paying bills more on their own. And if those patients can get a better price for paying cash upfront, the more likely they’ll pay and the more likely they’ll show up and get the care they need.
DBP: So how does the platform work?
MB: So it’s very similar to how a travel website would work, like Expedia or Kayak or Hotel Tonight. You log onto the homepage and see daily deals and specials. You can search for whatever you’re looking for, if you need an MRI, if you need to see a cardiologist, it shows you the times and prices. If a doctor suggests you need to get a referral for an MRI and you care about how much it costs, we would say you should probably schedule with us.
DBP: How long have you been in Brooklyn?
MB: My whole life.
DBP: Born and raised?
MB: I grew up in Bensonhurst.
DBP: Why did you choose to start the company in Brooklyn?
MB: This is home. I think it’s a wonderful place to recruit. It’s crazy how much Brooklyn has changed since I was a kid. Now it is itself a destination. People know what it is and it’s a great place to build. Downtown Brooklyn and Dumbo have grown and developed a ton in that now there’s office space, there’s restaurants…there’s tons of talent here. I’ve been thrilled to build our team here.
DBP: When you were thinking about where to locate, what were the pros and cons of Brooklyn over Manhattan?
MB: I think fundamentally Brooklyn is home for me, so the idea of starting it here was super appealing. It’s also home for one of our cofounders, John, who grew up in Brooklyn Heights. Manhattan is great, but Brooklyn’s got a culture all its own and we’re Brooklyn people so it’s good to be home.
DBP: And how’s it going so far?
MB: We have thousands of people using our platform every single day. We’re really excited about that, we get to talk to folks that are calling our customer service team and can’t really believe it exists, you can see a primary care doctor for $29, so we just want to keep it going.