Zeel Founder Samer Hamadeh on Pivoting and Sitting on Both Sides of the Table

March 17, 2012

10:00 am

If you are still recovering from SXSW (some people – I won’t name names – had more fun than others), you are probably staying away from alcohol, eating better, getting a full night’s sleep, and maybe detoxing with exercise and a massage now that you’re back home.

While finding a decent massage therapist isn’t that hard, one of the showcased startups from our SXSW #StartupLife Celebration last weekend, Zeel, will help you find and book appointments with top alternative healthcare professionals online and help you find a specialist or information on the best way to treat a particular condition.

Zeel was founded last summer in NYC by Samer Hamadeh, co-founder and former CEO of Vault.com and entrepreneur-in-residence at Lightspeed Venture Partners, and his wife, Alison Harmelin, an Emmy-nominated television news correspondent. Hamadeh also happens to be an active angel investor with stakes in multiple startups, including GrubHub, SalesCrunch, and Insidr.com.

During an interview yesterday, he told me how Zeel has pivoted since its launch last year, what he’s learned from sitting on both sides of the table, and what he looks for in entrepreneurs.

Tech Cocktail: You have a really interesting background as a startup founder and an angel investor – none of it healthcare-related. Where did the idea for Zeel come from?

Samer Hamadeh: About a year and a half ago my wife and I were both looking for good alternative healthcare practitioners for specific reasons – not just to get a massage for relaxation – and we struggled to find information about personal trainers, nutritionists, and massage therapists online.

Our initial idea last spring was more of a luxury/lifestyle site, which is a very small niche.  Over the summer, we knew we had to pivot when most of the requests we were getting were for medical- related treatments, like relief for arthritis and fibromyalgia.  Since there are no online resources for the non-medical side of healthcare, we shifted our focus.

We are actually redesigning the whole site again so it focuses more on health and alternative therapies.  MDs that are focused on preventative health are signing up too, which we never expected, and we expect to integrate insurance into the platform at some point.

Tech Cocktail: Was it easier to start Zeel after sitting on both sides of the table?

Hamadeh: Well, as a startup founder, I know how to build a company.  As an angel investor, I know what an investor looks for.  But being an angel does not make you a better entrepreneur.  When you can look at a company as a third-party, you see all the problems.  When you are in the weeds as a startup founder, you are blind to the problem – you just can’t see what someone else outside the company is seeing – and you have excuses and explanations for everything.

Tech Cocktail: What do you look for in entrepreneurs as an angel?

Hamadeh: You need to have a technical cofounder; it’s OK to have a failure under your belt because you have most likely learned from past mistakes; some experience with a startup – whether it was a success or not – is good; and some understanding of the market and relevant experience in the industry is great, but you have to have some industry connections.

I also have to like you, and you have to be honest and transparent.  And finally, the team should be a user of the product.  For instance, I am one of Zeel’s perfect customers – I use it, and I use it repeatedly to book appointments online.

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Monika Jansen is a writer and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, newsletters, website content, and other materials. Follow her at: @monikacjansen

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