GoHealth founders say fear of failure is not a bad thing to have

Jenny Darroch, Brandon Cruz, and Clint Jones on a Zoom call

The idea that an entrepreneur shouldn’t be afraid to fail is something of a mantra in the business world. But GoHealth founders Brandon Cruz and Clint Jones say that a fear of failure has been a driving force in their 20-year careers in business.

“We started the business with $5,000 each in credit card debt, essentially. We were generating revenue, but we got to know to a point where we were either going to run out of cash. And we actually met at a pizza place in Chicago and said, ‘If we don't figure out something or get the next deal, we've got to make a different decision,’ Jones recalled. “I think that fear of failure still exists today. I think that that's made us successful in our own right with all the different challenges we've gone through. There's going to be certain times that you think, ‘Oh, wow, is this where we're going to make it here? Are people going to buy this product? Do we have the capital to keep continue growing?’ I think you just have to grind through it, have that grit to get to the other side.”

GoHealth has found a niche in the $30 billion market of Medicare health plans. “We help seniors, when they turn 65, fully understand all the different options that are available to them. It's a very complicated product still, and it’s hard to do completely online without talking to somebody. So we've got licensed advisors we employ across the country that you as a senior or a consumer can connect with,” Jones explained to students during their Executive Speaker Series presentation. “We leverage technology to make the process very transparent. So we can see available options in your zip code, and then based on the drugs you take, the providers you go to, where the doctors are that you need to see, we can help you narrow it down to the best plan that maximizes your benefits, and ultimately saves you costs in the long run as well.”

“With our Encompass platform, we're focusing on helping consumers leverage their plan. We schedule transportation rides for folks that may not have a car to get to a provider. We will schedule a healthy meal delivery for folks that may live in a food desert or an area that doesn't have a lot of access to good grocery stores. So there’s a lot of activity like that that we're doing for the member beyond just purely enrollment,” Cruz noted.

“There's 11,000 people turning 65 every single day, and that trend continues through to 2028,” Jones said. “A lot of people turning 65 today are very, very comfortable buying online, researching online and leveraging this sort of a channel. So there are a lot of elements kind of in our favor as we think about, scaling the model we built.”

Cruz told the students that when entering a new job right now, they need to work hard to make themselves noticed in a field of faces on a Zoom call. “I would say people are more connected, but also more on their own than they ever they've ever been. There are things you can do to set yourself apart. Don't always just join the Zoom call when what you need to get with your managers, call them and have kind of a more informal person to person conversation. Do whatever you can to stand out, because everybody's just on a computer screen right now. It's really tough to differentiate yourself. So try to do some things that might be different than the rest of the crowd and separate yourself.”

“Find ways to kind of think outside of the box, become better known in the organization or with your manager, show the things you're doing where you're going above and beyond the call of duty. You build that personal brand so managers think, ‘Oh, well, we've got a rock star coming up here. Are there other things we can have that person do? How do we support this person better?’ Don't get lost in what I'll call the daily shuffle,” Jones said.

Jones said that students should strive to find work that matches what interests them. “Get your first job, cut your teeth. But I would say, over time, figure out what your passion is, and once you find that passion, go with it and go hard.”

“I think it's really important to be at a place where you like the coworkers that you're with, you respect them and you enjoy being there, because you do spend the majority of your day at work. So I think it's important that you enjoy the work that you do, and you’ve got to have passion for what you're doing,” Cruz remarked.

Cruz said that while the fear of failure is a strong motivation, it’s also important to take intelligent risks. “If you're going to jump off a bridge that's 40 feet tall and you're going to dive into the water, make sure you know how deep it is before you take that jump. So I think you just got to balance that risk. We always tell people ‘It's completely fine to screw up, but if you screwed up because you were lazy or didn't do your research or your homework first, that's not acceptable.’”

“If you think about fear of failure, I think a lot of people that start businesses might quit too early. If they would have grinded it out for another month or another six months, maybe innovated their product a little bit or try a different market, they could have been successful,” Jones remarked. “I think you have to take the risk to jump in to do something, but you also can be prepared if that might not work right away. If there's this failure concept in the back of your mind and you think, ‘I'm not going to fail. So I'm going to go ahead and pivot and try this.’ There's a huge number of successful businesses that aren't what they thought they were going to be when they started, GoHealth included. So I think the determined entrepreneurs keep making adjustments until they find that product market fit that can scale.”

Watch the ESS presentation

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