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Welcome to another episode of Category Visionaries — the show that explores GTM stories from tech’s most innovative B2B founders. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Kourosh Davarpanah, CEO and co-founder of Inato, a global clinical trial platform that has raised over $35 million in funding.

  • Kourosh’s journey from a family of medical professionals to pursuing his passion for engineering and building a mission-driven startup in the healthcare industry.
  • The staggering lack of diversity and access in clinical trials, with less than 5% of patients participating and a mere three African American women out of 8,000 patients in a breast cancer drug trial.
  • Inato’s two-sided marketplace model, connecting hospitals and pharma companies to help match the right trials to the right patients, inspired by the success of Airbnb.
  • The root cause of the access problem: 5% of top hospitals running 70%+ of trials, leaving patients at smaller community hospitals with little opportunity to participate.
  • The impact of COVID-19 in driving pharma companies to seek new ways to reach patients where they are, beyond the traditional site-based model.
  • Inato’s journey from a pharma-focused SaaS to a hard pivot in 2020, rebuilding the platform from scratch as a marketplace and achieving 600% revenue growth in the past year.
  • The importance of finding investors who deeply understand the problem space and can pitch the vision back to the founders, rather than trying to educate them from scratch.

Actionable
Takeaways

Seek the Root Cause, Not Just the Obvious Problem:

While the lack of diversity and access in clinical trials is widely acknowledged, Kourosh and his team spent four years digging beneath the surface to uncover the root cause: the concentration of trials in a handful of top hospitals. By identifying the underlying structural issue, Inato was able to design a marketplace solution that directly addresses the bottleneck. Founders should push beyond the obvious pain points to find the deeper, more systemic challenges that their product can solve.

Draw Inspiration from Analogous Marketplaces:

Kourosh cites his admiration for Airbnb's ability to unlock massive supply and transform a complex, trust-intensive transaction. By studying the key elements of Airbnb's success, from discovery to user experience, Inato was able to adapt and apply those principles to the clinical trial space. Founders should look for successful marketplace models in adjacent industries that can provide a blueprint for their own business.

Focus on Discovery and Matching Before Expanding Scope:

In the early stages of building the marketplace, Inato deliberately prioritized the discovery and matching components, spending three years perfecting the trust and credibility piece before moving on to administrative functions like pricing and payments. By nailing the core value proposition first, the company was able to gain traction and prove the model before adding complexity. Founders should resist the temptation to build too many features too soon and instead focus on getting the critical pieces right.

Partner with Multiple Customers to Avoid Overfitting:

One of Kourosh's key learnings was the danger of relying too heavily on a single customer in the early days. While partnering closely with one pharma company helped Inato gain initial traction, it also led to an overfit product that required significant backtracking to generalize to the broader market. Founders should strive to validate their solution with multiple customers to ensure they are building for the industry, not just one player.

Educate Investors, But Don't Overextend:

When raising capital, Kourosh found that there was a limit to how much Inato could educate investors about the complexities of the clinical trial space. Rather than trying to convert investors from zero knowledge to deep passion, the company focused on finding partners who had already done their homework and could articulate the vision themselves. Founders should balance the need to inform investors with the recognition that some degree of pre-existing domain expertise is necessary for true alignment.

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